Biden accuses Trump of fanning the ‘flames of hate’ as protests continue

Reports of police officers hit by gunfire during unrest; tear gas used on DC protesters

Eyewitness footage has captured police firing tear gas on protesters demonstrating outside The White House just minutes before US president Donald Trump walked to the nearby St. John's Episcopal Church. Video: Reuters

 

Joe Biden on Tuesday excoriated US president Donald Trump’s stewardship of a nation convulsed in crisis over issues of race and police brutality, likening his language to that of Southern racists of the 1960s and accusing him of sullying the highest ideals of America.

“Donald Trump has turned this country into a battlefield riven by old resentments and fresh fears,” the presumptive democratic nominee said, speaking against a backdrop of American flags at Philadelphia’s City Hall. “Is this who we want to be? Is this what we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren? Fear, anger, finger pointing, rather than the pursuit of happiness? Incompetence and anxiety, self-absorption, selfishness?”

The country, Mr Biden said, is “crying out for leadership.” Mr Biden’s remarks, which were by turns optimistic about America’s potential and sombre about the depth of the country’s challenges, come as his team moves urgently to draw sharper contrasts between M r Biden and Mr Trump on traits of character, empathy and steadiness.

In the past several days alone, Mr Trump has lectured governors, called protesters “terrorists,” spent time in an underground bunker, sought to deploy the military and visited a church for photographs while protesters were dispersed with tear gas to clear his path.

In his remarks, which lasted around 20 minutes, Mr Biden both rebuked his opponent and addressed the broader problems gripping the nation, saying directly that defeating Mr Trump would not be enough to heal the nation’s centuries-old divisions and hatreds.

“We’re a nation in pain,” Mr Biden said. “We must not let our pain destroy us. We’re a nation enraged, but we cannot let our rage consume us. We’re a nation that’s exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion defeat us. As president, it’s my commitment to all of you is to lead on these issues and to listen, because I truly believe in my heart of hearts, we can overcome.”

Travelling to Philadelphia from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, to address the civil unrest consuming the nation, Mr Biden called the presidency “a very big job” and said no one would get everything right, including him. “But I promise you this,” he added. “I won’t fan the flames of hate. I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country ? not use them for political gain.” It was his first public trip out of state since the coronavirus shuttered the campaign trail in March, and his third public appearance in three days.

Demonstrations

Tens of thousands of protesters in the US began another week of demonstrations and disturbances on Monday night, returning to the streets of cities around the country despite curfew orders, threats of arrest and an emotional plea by the brother of George Floyd to bring the destruction to end.

The protesters were driven from parks and government buildings by growing numbers of law enforcement officers in riot gear, whose response to dozens of confrontations has been criticised.

At least five US police were hit by gunfire during clashes, police and media said, hours after Mr Trump said he would deploy the military if unrest does not stop.

Mr Trump deepened outrage on Monday by posing at a church clutching a bible after law enforcement officers used teargas and rubber bullets to clear the way for him to walk there after he made his remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

Demonstrators set fire to a strip mall in Los Angeles, looted stores in New York City and clashed with police in St Louis, Missouri, where four officers were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

An emotional St Louis police commissioner, John Hayden, said about 200 protesters were looting and throwing fireworks and rocks at officers.

“We had to protect our headquarters building, they were throwing fireworks on officers, fireworks were exploding on officers,” he told reporters. “They had officers with gas poured on them. What is going on? How can this be? Mr Floyd was killed somewhere else and they are tearing up cities all across the country?”

A police officer was also shot during protests in the Las Vegas Strip area, AP news agency said, quoting police. Another officer was “involved in a shooting” in the same area, the agency said.

It gave no details of the shootings or the officers’ condition. Police declined to comment to Reuters.

Tensions

Mr Floyd’s death has reignited simmering racial tensions in a politically divided country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with African Americans accounting for a disproportionately high number of cases.

Mr Trump has condemned the killing of Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25th, and has promised justice.

But, with anti-police-brutality marches and rallies having turned violent after dark each day in the past week, he said rightful protests could not be drowned out by an “angry mob”.

“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled,” Mr Trump said. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

After his address, Trump posed for pictures with his daughter, Ivanka, and US Attorney General William Barr at St John’s Episcopal Church near the White House.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church diocese in Washington DC, Michael Curry, was among those who criticised Mr Trump’s use of the historic church for a photo opportunity.

“In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes,” he said on Twitter. The church suffered minor fire damage during protests on Monday night.

The White House said it was clearing the area before a curfew.

A few hours later, thousands of people marched through Brooklyn, shouting “Justice now!” while some passing drivers honked in support.

Television images showed crowds smashing windows and looting luxury stores along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan before the city’s 11 pm curfew. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the curfew would be moved to 8pm on Tuesday.

Two police officers were struck by a car at a demonstration in Buffalo, New York, on Monday night. Officials said the driver and passengers were believed to be in custody. It was not clear whether the incident was intentional.

In Hollywood, dozens of people were shown in television images looting a drug store. Windows were shattered at a nearby Starbucks and two restaurants.

Tear gas

In Philadelphia, an armoured vehicle bearing the insignia of the Pennsylvania State Police fired tear gas into a group of hundreds of protesters who had gathered near downtown.

In Minneapolis, Terrence Floyd became the first member of George Floyd’s family to visit the place where his brother lived his last conscious moments and told a crowd that what he had seen in recent days troubled him.

“If I’m not over here wilding out, if I’m not over here blowing up stuff, if I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are y’all doing? What are y’all doing?” he asked.

About 15 minutes after curfew, a peaceful crowd gathered at the spot saw flashing lights in the distance and ran toward them, saying they would not back down from the police, and barricaded the nearby streets.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky fired the city’s police chief after the owner of a local barbecue restaurant was killed when police officers and National Guard troops shot toward protesters.

The mayor, Greg Fischer, said he had fired the chief after learning that officers’ body cameras were not activated during the shooting.

‘Mechanical asphyxiation’

A second autopsy ordered by Mr Floyd’s family and released on Monday found his death was homicide by “mechanical asphyxiation,” or physical force that interfered with his oxygen supply. The report says three officers contributed to his death.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner later released autopsy findings that also called Mr Floyd’s death homicide by asphyxiation. The county report said Mr Floyd suffered cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by police and that he had arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.

Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Mr Floyd, was arrested on third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. Three other officers involved in the arrest have not been charged.

Mr Floyd’s death was the latest case of police brutality against black men that was caught on videotape and prompted an outcry over racism in US law enforcement.-New York Times/Reuters