Trump says his looting tweet was cautionary, not a threat

Jordan Fabian and Mario Parker Bloomberg

President Donald Trump sought to explain a tweet in which he appeared to threaten violence against people protesting the death of a black man in police custody in Minneapolis, saying that he was cautioning against the protests themselves turning deadly, not egging on law enforcement.

Trump’s unusual attempt to clean up his remarks Friday came after intense criticism of his earlier comments from Democrats and civil-rights advocates.

Later in the day, Trump said, “I understand the hurt, I understand the pain.” He said he called the family of George Floyd, the dead man.

But shortly before 1 a.m. Friday morning, the president warned the demonstrators in a tweet that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” re-igniting a debate over his views on racial issues and social-media conduct.

The tweet echoed a remark made in 1967 by a white Miami police chief when announcing tougher policing policies for the Florida city’s black neighborhoods.

Twitter Inc. responded by slapping a rule-violation notice on the tweet, saying the message promoted violence. That escalated tension between the social media company and the White House, following Trump’s move Thursday to issue an executive order seeking to curb the social media company’s liability protections.

But the president sought to cast his looting-and-shooting tweet in a different light on Friday, just before an afternoon event in the Rose Garden that he billed as a news conference. “Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night,” he said in a new tweet.

Trump didn’t take take questions during the event, and didn’t address the crisis in Minneapolis.

Late Friday afternoon, at a meeting with business executives at the White House, Trump brought up the topic again, saying: “The looters should not be allowed to drown out the voices of so many peaceful protesters.”

He said the protests can’t be allowed the descend into chaos and violence. “Law and order will prevail,” Trump said.

Police in Minneapolis on Friday arrested Derek Chauvin, the officer who was seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck during an arrest on Monday. Floyd, who was unarmed, was handcuffed at the time and later died in custody. The incident prompted a nationwide outcry about police brutality and set off protests in the streets of Minneapolis that turned violent on Thursday.

Trump’s Democratic rival for the White House, Joe Biden, took up the issue in a speech broadcast live on his website on Friday, assailing the violence and racism faced by African Americans and vowing to fight for racial justice.

“We need to stand up as a nation with the black community, with all minority communities, and come together as one America,” Biden said. “The very soul of America is at stake. We must commit as a nation to pursue justice with every ounce of our being.”

Tone Changed

Trump said Thursday he had ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to “take a very strong look” at Floyd’s death and that the incident appeared to be “a very bad thing.” But the president’s tone changed Friday morning after some protesters in Minneapolis torched businesses and a police station, and looted stores.

Trump’s tweeted threat to shoot protesters appeared to quote former Miami police chief Walter Headley, whose aggressive policing in black communities led to civil unrest and violence, according to the Miami Herald. In 1967 Headley was quoted by the Herald as saying, “I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

“He is calling for violence against American citizens during a moment of pain for so many. I’m furious, and you should be too,” Biden said of Trump earlier Friday.

The American Civil Liberties Union called Trump’s message “hypocritical, immoral and illegal.”

The American Civil Liberties Union called Trump’s message “hypocritical, immoral and illegal.”

Blaming Democrats, Media

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale responded by accusing Twitter, the news media and Democrats of “twisting” the president’s words “solely for the purpose of political gain, ratings, and cable news profit.”

“A man has died, a police officer is charged with murder, an American city is in chaos, and Democrats and the media see only a political opportunity and a chance to make money,” Parscale said in a statement. “Their behavior is reprehensible and should be roundly condemned by all Americans.”

Trump has often sided with law enforcement in debate over police brutality, drawing criticism from civil-rights activists. Speaking to law enforcement officers on Long Island in 2017, Trump appeared to endorse officers’ rough treatment of suspects under arrest. “Please don’t be too nice,” he told them.

He’s also frequently criticized black NFL players for protesting police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem before games.

And Trump has repeatedly refused to apologize for urging the return of the death penalty in New York in 1989 following the arrest of the young men known as the Central Park Five, who were later exonerated of rape and assault charges. Trump has continued to suggest the men are guilty.

2020 Bloomberg L.P.