As the riots and destruction across America continued for the fifth day after protests originally over the death of George Floyd devolved into looting and destruction in Minneapolis, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio despicably attempted to score political points by blaming President Donald Trump for the “atmosphere” of “tension and hatred and division” behind the protests. Yet he managed to alienate the anti-Trump left a few hours later by refusing to condemn police who drove a cruiser into a crowd of protesters.
“I’ve not seen the specific words coming out of the White House or actions but I can tell you this, and this is the blunt truth: The president of the United States helped to create this atmosphere, and that’s the tragedy here,” de Blasio said in a press conference on Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is, it doesn’t matter what you think of President Trump, there’s been an uptick in tension and hatred and division since he came along, it’s just a fact,” the mayor added. “And it’s not the reason for any specific act but it has helped to poison the atmosphere. So we’ve got to get back to leaders talking about unity.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 30, 2020
While Trump’s rhetoric has been divisive, it was despicable for de Blasio to attempt to blame the riots and looting and destruction on the president. Trump has condemned the horrific death of George Floyd, the black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly ten minutes. The president ordered the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate the case, demonstrating his seriousness in bringing the cops to justice.
….I have asked for this investigation to be expedited and greatly appreciate all of the work done by local law enforcement. My heart goes out to George’s family and friends. Justice will be served!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
In cases of police abuse, the system moves slowly because police need a broad latitude to handle threats to public safety. While Derek Chauvin, the man who knelt on Floyd’s neck, should have been arrested earlier, he has been arrested and charged with manslaughter and third-degree murder. The system is working to bring him to justice.
Yet protests over George Floyd’s death devolved into lootings at a Target store near the police station. Rioters in Minneapolis burned an Arby’s, an AutoZone, and an affordable housing apartment building. The violence spilled into other states, as rioters broke into the Ohio Statehouse on Friday morning.
As of the wee hours of Sunday morning, police have arrested nearly 1,400 people in 17 U.S. cities since Thursday.
• Police make nearly 1,400 arrests in 17 U.S. cities since Thursday.
• Downtown Seattle shops ransacked.
• Trump commends National Guard troops in Minneapolis. pic.twitter.com/WpTDj57exs
— The Associated Press (@AP) May 31, 2020
Governors in nine states have activated their states’ National Guards to respond to riots: Minnesota, Ohio, Georgia, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Texas, Utah, and Washington State. In another five more, governors have said they planned to activate the National Guard.
BREAKING: ABC News confirms Governors in at least 9 states have activated their states' National Guards to respond to protests: Minnesota, Ohio, Georgia, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Texas, Utah, Washington state.
— Tony Morrison • ABC News (@THETonyMorrison) May 31, 2020
Cities across the country set curfews to stem the violence, including: Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Cleveland, Columbus, Portland, Miami, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, and Rochester.
Among the curfews in effect on Saturday night in the US:
• Los Angeles
• Salt Lake City
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 31, 2020
America’s cities look like war zones. Cars are burning in Grand Rapids.
This is video of 5 cars on fire in downtown Grand Rapids right now. pic.twitter.com/oxqsGQClvL
— alexaskonieski (@AlexaSkonieski) May 31, 2020
There are clashes in downtown Reno, Nev.
Law enforcement in armored trucks moving up Virginia Street in downtown Reno pic.twitter.com/2sR0p4Cv02
— Daniel Rothberg (@danielrothberg) May 31, 2020
George Floyd’s family has insisted that this is the last thing Floyd would have wanted.
As for de Blasio’s suggestion that Trump has not talked about unity, the president did call for unity during a speech on Saturday afternoon.
“I understand the pain that people are feeling. We support the right of peaceful protestors, and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace. The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters, and anarchists,” Trump lamented.
While the president did attribute the “violence and vandalism” to antifa and “other radical left-wing groups,” he urged that “right now, America needs creation, not destruction; cooperation, not contempt, security and not anarchy. Civilization must be cherished, defended, and protected. The voices of law-abiding citizens must be heard and heard very loudly.”
Trump noted that the mobs “are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses, and burning down buildings. The mobs are devastating the life’s work of good people and destroying their dreams. … We cannot and must not allow a small group of criminals and vandals to wreck our cities and lay waste to our communities. We must defend the rights of every citizen to live without violence, prejudice, or fear.”
“We support the right of peaceful protestors, and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace.” pic.twitter.com/ckZ28xXSkA
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 30, 2020
Trump’s response has not been perfect, but he is not to blame for the riots, the looting, the arson. Only the mob itself is truly responsible — along with instigators who appear to be working across state lines. Gov. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) has suggested the rioters have come from out of state, and Attorney General William Barr announced that rioters who cross state lines to instigate this violence will be charged under federal law.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden went out of his way to condemn a Trump tweet calling for an end to the looting and violence that Twitter pseudo-censored on Friday. The president (likely unwittingly) used a phrase with an ugly racial history in defense of law and order.
Meanwhile, at least 13 members of Joe Biden’s staff publicly announced that they had donated to an organization that uses donations to pay bail fees in Minneapolis. They did so amid arrests of looters and rioters who had destroyed the livelihoods of businesses struggling to reopen after the coronavirus lockdowns. Neither Biden nor his team is in any way responsible for the rioting and looting, but this move to help the looters and rioters is gravely disturbing.
In such times, Trump’s call for law and order should not be considered political. The defense of private property and business owners’ livelihoods should not be a partisan issue.
Yet de Blasio rushed to blame Trump for the “uptick in hatred and division” behind the riots.
Ironically, the very leftists who might cheer that accusation turned on de Blasio on Sunday morning. On Saturday, two NYPD vehicles drove into a crowd of rioters who were violently attacking the vehicles.
Here is the overhead… pic.twitter.com/US6Qqhkz3O
— Rob Bennett @ 🏡 (@rob_bennett) May 31, 2020
When a reporter asked him about the video during a press conference, de Blasio said “it’s inappropriate for protesters to surround a police vehicle and threaten police officers. It’s wrong on its face.” He argued that “a different element has come into play here who are trying to hurt police officers and trying to damage their vehicles. And if a police officer’s in that situation, they have to get out of that situation.”
“The video was upsetting, and I wish the officers hadn’t done that. But I also understood that they didn’t start the situation,” he said. “In a situation like that … I’m not gonna blame officers who were trying to deal with an absolutely impossible situation.”
He later said on NY1, “If those protesters had just gotten out of the way, and not created an attempt to surround that vehicle we would not be talking about this situation.”
The Bernie Sanders group People for Bernie called on de Blasio to resign.
— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) May 31, 2020
New York Times contributing op-ed writer Wajahat Ali also called for his resignation.
Bill de Blasio should resign. His statements tonight were shameful. https://t.co/fzJcKOSMlT
— Wajahat "Social Distance Yourself" Ali (@WajahatAli) May 31, 2020
In less than a day, de Blasio alienated conservatives by shamefully attempting to blame the riots on Trump and he alienated everyone else by defending police for driving into the rioters.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.