Democratic leaders on Monday criticized the use of tear gas against protesters in Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Square before President Trump walked through the area to visit St. John’s Church, which had caught on fire during last night’s demonstrations.
Law enforcement officers deployed tear gas and shot rubber bullets to forcefully disperse the peaceful protesters prior to his visit, which drew harsh backlash from Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“Tonight the President of the United States used the American military to shoot peaceful protestors with rubber bullets & tear gas them. For a photo op,” Clinton said. “This is a horrifying use of presidential power against our own citizens, & has no place anywhere, let alone in America. Vote.”
“He’s using the American military against the American people. He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets. For a photo,” Biden remarked. “For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him. But I mean it when I say this: we can only do it together.”
“The President of the United States tear-gassed peaceful protestors in order to clear the way for a useless photo-op outside the White House—just after vowing to activate the military against our own people. Lives and our democracy are in danger,” Warren said.
Judd Deere, the White House’s deputy press secretary, gave a statement on Monday to explain the actions against protesters.
“The perimeter was expanded to help enforce the 7 p.m. curfew in the same area where rioters attempted to burn down one of our nation’s most historic churches the night before. Protesters were given three warnings by the U.S. Park Police,” Deere said, according to NPR.
President Donald Trump walks past police in Lafayette Park after visiting outside St. John’s Church across from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
During the brief visit at the boarded-up church, the president stood in front and posed for photographers while holding up a Bible. He was accompanied by a variety of aides and officials, including Attorney General Bill Barr, daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
President Donald Trump walks in Lafayette Park to visit outside St. John’s Church across from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The removal of the protesters came as Trump gave a statement in the Rose Garden that he is taking “immediate action” to mobilize “all available federal resources” to stop riots and looting across the country. He also threatened to deploy the military if states don’t send in the National Guard to the protests.
“I have recommended every governor deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers to dominate the streets,” the president said during his speech. “We are ending riots and lawlessness, we will end it today.”
Looting, riots, and fires were reported in the nation’s capital Sunday and in cities throughout the U.S in response to the death of George Floyd who died in police custody last Monday.
Floyd, 46, died after a police officer pressed his knee against his neck for more than eight minutes. Footage released of the incident showed Floyd shouting, “I cannot breathe” and, “Don’t kill me.”
Fox News’ Morgan Phillips contributed to this report