WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to take action to bring the city of Minneapolis “under control,” calling violent protesters outraged by the death of a black man in police custody “thugs” and saying that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Trump tweeted after protesters torched a Minneapolis police station, capping three days of violence over the death of George Floyd, who pleaded for air as a white police officer knelt on his neck.
He said he spoke to the state’s Democratic 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!”
Trump didn’t clarify what he meant — Walz has already activated the National Guard — but the tweet drew another warning from Twitter for his rhetoric, with the social media giant saying he had “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.”
Slapping back, the White House reposted Trump’s “shooting starts” message on its official Twitter account Friday morning.
The move came a day after Trump signed an executive order challenging the site’s liability protections.
Trump, who has often remained silent in the aftermath of police-involved killings and has a long history of defending police, has been uncharacteristically vocal this time, saying earlier Thursday that he felt “very, very badly” about Floyd’s death and calling video capturing his struggle “a very shocking sight.”
But his language grew more aggressive as violence boiled over in Minneapolis on Thursday night. “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” he wrote shortly before 1 a.m.
Although Twitter added the warning to Trump’s tweet, the company did not remove it, saying it had determined the message might be in the public interest — something it does only for tweets by elected and government officials. A user looking at Trump’s timeline would have to click to see the original tweet.
Twitter explained that it took action “in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts” but “kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance.”
Earlier this week, Twitter fact checked two of Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots, drawing his anger.
“It seems like they’re carrying out a vendetta against the president,” Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 GOP House leader, said on Fox News Friday.
Once more likely to hew to the “blue lives matter” mantra, Trump, his allies and Republicans in elected office across the nation have been questioning the conduct of the officer who pinned Floyd down and calling for justice. But some activists doubt that Trump has suddenly evolved on the issue of police brutality and instead see election year political calculations.
“This is the first race-tinged case that I’ve ever heard him address” as president, said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist and Trump critic who has known the president for decades. “I think the difference is a November election.”
Trump has been silent on a number of high-profile police-involved killings, including that of Stephon Clark, a black man shot by Sacramento, California, police in 2018.
“This is something that is a local matter and that’s something that we feel should be left up to the local authorities,” then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the time.
Trump has never addressed the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold by police trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Video of the encounter was viewed millions of times online, and Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. Trump has, however, invoked those words on several occasions to mock political rivals, even bringing his hands to his neck for dramatic effect.
Yet Trump has a long history of injecting himself into racially sensitive cases. In 1989, he took out full-page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, five young men of color who were wrongly convicted of a brutal assault on a jogger. Trump has never apologized, telling reporters last year: “You have people on both sides of that.”
And he has even appeared to advocate for the rougher treatment of people in police custody, speaking dismissively of the police practice of shielding the heads of handcuffed suspects as they are being placed in patrol cars.
But Trump’s tone has changed in recent weeks as he has repeatedly expressed dismay at footage of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old black man fatally shot in February in Georgia while jogging.
Trump and his allies have been even clearer on the death of Floyd, who can be heard and seen on tape pleading that he couldn’t breathe before he slowly stops talking and moving.
Trump “was very upset when he saw that video,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday. “He wants justice to be served.”
Even conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who once called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist group,” said Floyd’s death was totally “unjustified” and he was “so mad.”
The outpouring comes as the Trump campaign has sought to chip into the advantage Democrats have with black voters. The campaign hopes either to win enough black support to keep pivotal states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in play or minimize enthusiasm for Democratic rival Joe Biden. There could be a small window after Biden last week told a prominent black radio host that African Americans who back Trump “ain’t black,” a gaffe he later said he regretted.
Chris White, the longtime director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, questioned the sincerity of Republicans’ response to the deaths of Arbery and Floyd given the timing.
“Any time we hear politicians speaking about dealing with police brutality in the middle of election year, it’s just meaningless rhetoric that has a hollow promise,” he said.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Thursday, “This has nothing to do with politics and is only about making sure justice is done, and anyone who suggest otherwise is only seeking to sew division and ignore the President’s unwavering support for the African-American community.”
Associated Press writer Kat Stafford in Detroit contributed to this report.