Trump and Washington mayor escalate war of words over protests

Muriel Bowser urges people to vote president out of office in November’s election

Demonstrators gather on 16th Street and the portion newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty

Demonstrators gather on 16th Street and the portion newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty

 

US president Donald Trump resumed his attacks on political opponents on Sunday, a day after more than 10,000 gathered in Washington DC to demonstrate against racism.

Marches took place at key points around the city, culminating in a demonstration in a street near the White House that was renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza on Friday by DC mayor Muriel Bowser.

The protests were the latest public expression of anger at the death of African-American man George Floyd, who died two weeks ago in police custody in Minneapolis.

Addressing the crowd on Saturday, Ms Bowser, who has clashed with Mr Trump in recent days, urged people to vote the president out of office in November’s election.

“Today we say no. In November, we say ‘Next’,” she said, standing near the huge yellow lettering spelling Black Lives Matter along several blocks of 16th Street.

Mr Trump, who spent the weekend at the White House, retweeted an earlier post denouncing the mayor as “grossly incompetent”, claiming there was a “much smaller crowd in DC than anticipated” for the demonstration.

As protests have rocked the US capital, a clash over control of the city’s streets has broken out between Ms Bowser, who controls Washington’s police force, and the Trump administration, which has significant federal power over the city’s public space.

The US president also accused Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden yesterday of wanting to defund the police force and military, claiming “he has no choice, the Dems are controlled by the Radical Left”.

“Sleepy Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats want to ‘DEFUND THE POLICE’. I want great and well paid LAW ENFORCEMENT. I want LAW & ORDER!” Mr Trump posted on Twitter.

He also announced that he was ordering the National Guard to withdraw from Washington “now that everything is under perfect control”. But he warned that the forces “can quickly return, if needed”.

“Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!” he added.

‘Invasion’ of city

Speaking on Saturday, Ms Bowser described the scenes last week that saw federal forces remove peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square as “basically an invasion of our city”.

However, in a sign of the political battle ahead for the mayor as she faces calls to act decisively on police reform, the words “defund police” were added to the Black Lives Matter street art on Saturday. Ms Bowser declined to say if the new slogan, which was painted by the Black Lives Matter movement, would be removed by authorities. 

Elsewhere across the country, some of the biggest rallies of recent days took place.  

In Philadelphia, which saw scenes of civil unrest last week, thousands took to the streets to protest over the death of Mr Floyd and the issue of institutional racism in law enforcement. For the first time in a week, no curfew was imposed on the city last night.

Similarly in New York, mayor Bill de Blasio lifted a nightly curfew a day early, after protests unfolded without incident in the city on Saturday night.

But controversy continued to simmer in upstate New York as two police officers were charged with second-degree assault after video footage showed them pushing a 75-year-old man during protests in Buffalo on Thursday. The man fell backwards, hit his head, and was shown lying in a pool of blood. He remains in hospital in a serious condition. The two officers had already been suspended without pay.

As the accused men appeared in court on Saturday, dozens of their colleagues gathered outside in a show of solidarity. Fifty-seven members of the force’s emergency response team also resigned from their unit in protest at the treatment of their colleagues.

Public opinion

A Wall Street Journal/ABC poll showed that Americans were more troubled by police violence than at the demonstrations taking place across the country by a two-to-one margin.

But Mr Trump’s acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, rejected claims that there was a systemic racism problem among law enforcement officers. “Do I acknowledge that there are some law enforcement officers that abuse their jobs? Yes. And again, we need to hold those accountable,” he said.

Also yesterday, Mr Tump hit out at former secretary of state Colin Powell, who said in an interview that he planned to vote for Joe Biden in November. Mr Trump said the former Republican politician was “highly overrated”.