Protests against systemic racism and brutality by police departments around the country ignited by the May 25 Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd are being met with tear gas, rubber bullets, riot shields, and worse as the president threatens to impose martial law.
Shortly after Donald Trump addressed the nation from the White House on Monday evening, federal police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters in nearby LaFayette Park—around 20 minutes before a city-wide curfew went into effect. Trump threatened that unless governors across the country dispersed demonstrations and stop late-night looting with their own police and National Guard units, he was prepared to invoke the Insurrection Act and deploy the U.S. military to fight “antifa.” He then walked to a nearby church that had suffered fire damage over the weekend for a photo-op with a Bible, using the jaw-dropping levels of force on protesters as cover.
Shortly after, between 200-500 military police deployed from Fort Bragg, North Carolina into the nation’s capital. Military helicopters were filmed descending below the tops of buildings to disperse crowds of protesters that occupied streets well after the 7 p.m. curfew. Others demonstrators dispersed into D.C. neighborhoods, drawing a heavy police presence. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, meanwhile, demanded that Arlington police who had assisted in the crackdown near the White House leave town.
In countless U.S. cities, police stepped up efforts to disrupt protests after days of widespread accounts of indiscriminate force and assaults on protesters and journalists. Other acts of lawlessness by police caught on camera have indisputably added fuel to the fire. In New York, where a curfew was scheduled to begin at 11:00 p.m., authorities said double the number of police were deployed and ready to enforce it. Philadelphia police fired tear gas into a crowd of hundreds of protesters occupying a highway, forcing them to scramble up a nearby embankment. Mostly white vigilantes reportedly took to the streets in Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood as police reportedly looked the other way. The group, armed with baseball bats and other makeshift weapons, claimed to be a neighborhood self-defense force even as a WHYY producer captured them dropping racial slurs.
With the National Guard’s help, Atlanta police used tear gas to clear crowds downtown after a 9:00 p.m. curfew. Police in Richmond, Virginia used tear gas on peaceful protesters, saying it was necessary to stop others from allegedly trying to pull statutes down.
In contrast, Detroit protesters reportedly dispersed after curfew without the violence seen in other cities. Demonstrations in St. Louis were mostly peaceful, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but sundown after police threw tear gas at protesters throwing fireworks.