DC Officials Reject Protest Response 06/03 06:38
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Officials in the nation's capital pushed back on an
aggressive response by the federal government to demonstrations over the death
of George Floyd, with the mayor flatly rejecting a Trump administration
proposal for the federal government to take over its police force and one
county in Virginia pulling its officers from Washington.
The federal government has deployed law enforcement officials from numerous
agencies, and National Guard troops from a number of states have been sent to
the District of Columbia. Attorney General William Barr, who is directing the
federal law enforcement response in the city, promised by Tuesday "even greater
law enforcement resources and support in the region."
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said the Trump administration
floated the idea of taking over the Metropolitan Police Department, a proposal
she strongly rejected. She threatened to take legal action if the federal
government attempted to do so.
But there were signs that the federal response would be even more aggressive
Tuesday night, as Washington prepared for a fifth night of protests.
Hours before a 7 p.m. curfew for the second night in a row, cars were being
stopped at military checkpoints in downtown Washington and a cavalry of armored
military vehicles could be seen driving through the district. Businesses were
boarding up windows with plywood in anticipation of another night of violence
after fires were set, windows were shattered, store shelves were emptied and
dozens of police officers were injured in days of protests.
Two Defense Department officials said the Trump administration had ordered
military aircraft to fly above Washington on Monday night as a "show of force"
against demonstrators protesting the death of Floyd, a black man who died after
a white Minneapolis policeman pressed his knee into his neck for several
minutes even after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air. Police made over
300 arrests, mainly for violating the district's curfew.
Earlier Monday evening, law enforcement officers on foot and horseback moved
aggressively to clear protesters away from Lafayette Park near the White House
in advance of President Donald Trump's walk to a nearby church for a photo
After participating in the show of force, Arlington County in Virginia
pulled out its officers, saying they were used "for a purpose not worthy of our
mutual aid obligations."
County Board Chair Libby Garvey said on Twitter she's "appalled" that the
mutual aid agreement was abused "for a photo op." In a phone interview, Garvey
said the aid request came from U.S. Park Police, and that the agencies have
aided each other routinely over the years. She said Arlington Police had helped
in Washington on Saturday and Sunday without incident.
Arlington County officials said in a statement their officers never wielded
their batons and did not fire rubber bullets or tear gas. But after watching
the scene unfold on live television, the police chief ordered all the officers
to return to Virginia.
"This unprecedented decision by the County was a necessary response to an
unprecedented situation," the statement said.
Officials said they were reevaluating the mutual aid agreements to ensure
officers "are never again put in a situation where they are asked to take
action that is inconsistent with our values."
The U.S. Park Police on Tuesday defended its actions at the park, saying it
issued three warnings over a loudspeaker before clearing the area of
protesters, some of whom they said were becoming violent, throwing projectiles
and trying to grab weapons. It said it used smoke canisters and pepper balls to
disperse the crowd.
Barr ordered law enforcement officials to clear the park and push back the
perimeter around the White House when he arrived there Monday evening, ahead of
the president's remarks, leading to police using force to disperse protesters,
a person familiar with the matter told the AP.
Officials had met Monday morning and decided the perimeter had to be moved
by at least one full block, which was expected to happen by Monday afternoon,
after multiple fires were set in the park the night before, the person said.
When Barr arrived, he was surprised it hadn't been done and directed action to
be taken, according to the person, who could not discuss the matter publicly
and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Monday, in a call with governors, Trump and Barr had encouraged more
aggressive action against those who cause violence during protests across the
The call raised questions about whether using more aggressive law
enforcement measures against demonstrators protesting police brutality would
only increase tensions.
Trump said he was "taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence
and restore security and safety in America."
The president urged governors to deploy the National Guard, which he
credited with helping calm the situation Sunday night in Minneapolis, and
demanded that similarly tough measures be taken in cities that also experienced
spasms of violence, including New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
"Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement
presence until the violence has been quelled," Trump said.
Between the protests and the response to the coronavirus pandemic, the
National Guard has been deployed at its highest level in recent history,
surpassing the number of troops sent to the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina
in 2005. More than 66,700 soldiers and airman have been activated 45,000 to
assist with the pandemic and more than 17,000 to help with the protests.
The federal government has provided all affected states with a list of
National Guard resources available to them, a White House official said. The
official added that Trump's message to governors was if they don't utilize all
of the tools in their arsenal they shouldn't expect a sympathetic response from
Washington if they request federal dollars to help with clean-up and recovery
down the line. The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to
AP on condition of anonymity.
Other law enforcement resources are also being mobilized in Washington.
The Justice Department had deployed agents from every one of its agencies,
including the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, an elite tactical unit, and riot teams
from the Bureau of Prisons.
The U.S. Park Police and Secret Service have had dozens of officers out in
riot gear in Washington for the last few nights, in addition to the
Metropolitan Police Department. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other
Homeland Security agencies were also dispatched.
Most of the protesters have been peaceful and tried to discourage violence.
Trump, Barr and others have tried to blame some of the civil unrest on
left-wing extremist groups, including antifa, and other "anarchists." Short for
anti-fascists, antifa is an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups
that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.
The Justice Department has vowed to treat the "violence instigated and
carried out by antifa & other similar groups" as domestic terrorism. Although
there isn't a specific federal domestic terrorism statute, prosecutors could
charge other offenses and seek enhanced sentencing.
The U.S. military and National Guard are operating in Washington under the
official mission name Operation Themis, according to two Pentagon officials,
who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so
publicly. In Greek mythology, Themis was a titaness of divine law and order,
whose symbols are the scales of justice.
Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon spokesperson, said they were not
aware of the operational name but said it's possible.
The Associated Press reviewed a Defense Department document that showed the
DC response is under the banner of Operation Themis. The document was marked