By Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday urged U.S. states to crack down on violent protests that have engulfed cities, saying officials should “dominate” and arrest people to restore order after a sixth straight night of vandalism and looting, media reported.
Residents and business owners in cities from New York to Santa Monica, California, spent Monday sweeping up broken glass and taking stock of damage after protests over racial inequities and excessive police force turned violent again overnight.
“You have to dominate,” Trump told the governors in a private call, the New York Times reported. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time – they’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
CBS News, which also obtained audio of the call, said Trump had pinned the violence on the “radical left.”
Dozens of cities across the United States remain under curfews at a level not seen since riots following the 1968 assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The National Guard deployed in 23 states and Washington, D.C.
Authorities fought to put out fires near the White House and halt the looting of shops in numerous cities. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported “significant ongoing” civil unrest in 36 U.S. cities, including smaller ones like Fargo, North Dakota, and Roanoke, Virginia.
One person was killed in Louisville, Kentucky, overnight where police and National Guard troops returned fire while trying to disperse a crowd.
“It’s devastating and heartbreaking,” Alex Flowers, 30, said as she swept broken glass from the sidewalk outside Wasteland, a used-clothing store in Santa Monica, California, early on Monday. “I came to help clean up the city that has been destroyed and help the business owners and employees.”
The unrest, which erupted as the country was easing lengthy lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus, began with peaceful protests over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis last Monday.
Video footage showed a white police officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, 46, for nearly nine minutes before he died. Derek Chauvin, a since-fired 44-year-old police officer, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was released on $500,000 bail and is due to appear in court on June 8, according to jail records.
‘I’LL FIGHT WITH YOU’
On Monday, dozens of people quietly paid their respects to Floyd at the scene outside the Cup Foods where he lost his life. Visitors left flowers and signs honoring Floyd on the pavement. A little girl wrote, “I’ll fight with you,” in aqua blue chalk in the road.
“This is therapeutic. My heart was real heavy this morning so I came down extra early and when I got here, the heaviness lifted,” said Diana Jones, 40, the mother of four children. “This right here let’s me know that things are going to be ok.”
In the U.S. capital, St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic place near the White House where many U.S. presidents have worshipped, suffered minor damage while the nearby headquarters of the AFL-CIO labor group was vandalized.
Floyd’s death was the latest in a string of similar incidents to prompt an outcry over racism in law enforcement. It reignited outrage across a politically and racially divided country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many cities affected by the unrest are just restarting some normal economic activity after more than two months of stay-at-home orders to stem the outbreak, which has killed more than 104,000 people and plunged more than 40 million people into joblessness.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News that Antifa, an anti-fascist group, was “certainly behind” the violence. Trump branded the group a terrorist organization, though it was unclear whether they were involved in any violence.
New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told a news briefing with Mayor Bill de Blasio that police are seeing “outside agitators coming and trying to rally people to do bad things.”
Trump has condemned the killing of Floyd and promised justice but has made no major public statement to address the crisis. In tweets he has described protesters as “thugs” and threatened to use the U.S. military.
Critics accuse the Republican president, who is seeking re-election in November, of stoking conflict and racial tension rather than seeking to bring the country together and address the underlying issues.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, critical of Trump’s handling of the crisis, met black community leaders in a church and said he would create a police oversight board within his first 100 days in the White House.
Black people account for 6.8% of Minnesota’s population but 29% of coronavirus cases, state and federal data show.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Andy Sullivan, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Lucy Nicholson, Michael Martina and Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Howard Goller)