US President Donald Trump threatened yesterday to stop looters in Minneapolis with deadly military force, after that city weathered a third night of arson and rioting over the police killing of an unarmed black man.
He later tried to walk back on his threat.
Some congressional Democrats denounced as racist Trump’s Twitter threat, which called the looters “THUGS” and warned “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
Twitter for the first time hid the Trump tweet behind a warning banner that accused the president of “glorifying violence”.
Later the president tried to walk back on the threat of deadly force.
“Looting leads to shooting ... I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,” Trump said on Twitter.
Former vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and some congressional Democrats denounced the initial threat, which warned “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
Trump relies heavily on Twitter to bring his message directly to his 80mn followers on the site, but also has repeatedly accused it and other social media sites of censuring conservatives.
Trump, a Republican who is running for re-election in November, has a history of inflaming racial tensions.
He blamed “both sides” for violence between white supremacists and left-wing counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and has called illegal immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border rapists.
His earlier tweet suggested that security forces would open fire on looters to curtail unrest over the death of George Floyd, a black man seen on video gasping for breath while a white police officer knelt on his neck.
A video shows that after being detained on a minor, non-violent charge of using a counterfeit banknote, he was handcuffed, pinned to the ground and one officer held his knee tightly to Floyd’s neck for more than five minutes until he went limp.
Black leaders continued to express outrage over the death of Floyd, 46, while handcuffed on the ground and in custody of Minneapolis police on Monday.
“People are angry they are frustrated because this is not the first police killing they have seen around the country,” Al Sharpton, a prominent black rights activist, told MSNBC.
Protests over his death and other killings like it have spread to cities including Los Angeles and Denver.
Trump said in his earlier tweet: “These THUGS are dishonouring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way.
“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
The phrase about shooting dates back to US police crackdowns on civil rights in the 1960s.
Democrats accused Trump of making the situation worse.
“He is calling for violence against American citizens during a moment of pain for so many. I’m furious, and you should be too,” Democratic presidential candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden said in a tweet.
US Representative Rashida Tlaib, one of the most liberal voices in Congress, took a harsher tone: “The impeached president is a violent white supremacist.”
Trump issued his tweet amid days of turmoil in Minneapolis, which was engulfed in a third night of arson, looting and vandalism as protesters vented their rage over Floyd’s death.
Four police officers involved in Floyd’s death have been fired and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating.
One officer, Derek Chauvin, who filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck, was arrested yesterday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Trump has condemned the killing and promised justice.
Trump’s re-election campaign has identified Minnesota as a state that he could win in 2020 after narrowly losing it in 2016.
Floyd’s death was one of several recent killings of black people in the United States that has provoked outrage.
Overnight demonstrators broke through law enforcement barriers to overtake the Minneapolis police station where the four officers blamed for Floyd’s death were based.
A fire broke out and soon became an inferno that engulfed the structure.
The state’s national guard announced the 500 troops were being deployed for peacekeeping amid signs that the anger was nowhere near dissipating.
“Our troops are trained to protect life, preserve property and ensure people’s right to peacefully demonstrate,” said Major-General Jon Jensen of the Minnesota National Guard.
Riot police in gas masks arrested a CNN crew on live TV, leading them away in handcuffs from streets that resembled a war zone.
More than an hour later, the crew was released.
Officers gave no explanation as they escorted CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his camera crew away.
His crew had just shown a protester being taken into custody when about half a dozen police officers in gas masks surrounded Jimenez.
The journalists were released about an hour after being arrested.
“What gave me one bit of comfort was that it happened on live TV,” Jimenez told viewers after he was released. “You don’t have to doubt my story. It’s not filtered in any way; you saw it with your own eyes.”
The striking footage of the arrest could add to racial tensions in the city.
Jimenez is black, while most of the police officers who arrested him appeared to be white.
CNN anchor John Berman told viewers about an hour after the arrest of Jimenez that CNN president Jeff Zucker had spoken with Minnesota Governor Walz, who apologised for the incident.
Jimenez said his crew had been standing on a street for about an hour and a half before police activity kicked up.
They moved onto a corner to get out of the way, he said.
On air, Jimenez told the officers wearing gas masks and face shields that he wanted to know where to move to get out of their way and explained he was a member of the media.
“This is among the state patrol unit that was advancing up the street, seeing and scattering the protesters at that point for people to clear the area.
And so we walked away,” Jimenez said before being told he was under arrest and handcuffed by two officers. “Why am I under arrest, sir?”
In a tweet, the Minnesota State Patrol said three CNN crew members were arrested while troopers were “clearing the streets and restoring order”, and that they were released when it was confirmed they were members of the media.
Protests took place in other US cities, including Louisville, Kentucky, where police said seven people were shot.
Protesters there vented rage over the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a black woman shot in her apartment in March.
Seven people were hit by gunfire at a protest on Thursday over Taylor’s death.
One of those wounded was in critical condition, according to the Louisville Metro Police Department.
It is not yet clear who fired the shots.
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