Live Protests Today Updates: George Floyd, Police and BLM

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The police fired tear gas canisters and flash grenades on June 1 to clear out protesters so President Trump could visit St. John’s Church, which was damaged by a fire the night before.CreditCredit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

‘I should not have been there,’ Milley says of Trump photo op.

The country’s top military official apologized on Thursday for taking part in President Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square for a photo op after authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the area of peaceful protesters.

“I should not have been there,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a prerecorded video commencement address to National Defense University. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

His first public remarks since Mr. Trump’s photo op, in which federal authorities attacked peaceful protesters so that the president could hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Church, are certain to anger the White House, where Mr. Trump has spent the days since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis taking increasingly tougher stances against the growing movement for change across the country.

On Wednesday, the president picked another fight with the military, slapping down the Pentagon for considering renaming Army bases named after Confederate officers who fought against the Union in the Civil War.

The back and forth between Mr. Trump and the Pentagon in recent days is evidence of the deepest civil-military divide since the Vietnam War — except this time, military leaders, after halting steps in the beginning, are now positioning themselves firmly with those calling for change.

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Mr. Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square, current and former military leaders say, has sparked a critical moment of reckoning in the military.

“As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from,” General Milley said. He said he had been angry about “the senseless and brutal killing of George Floyd,” and repeated his opposition to Mr. Trump’s suggestions that federal troops be deployed nationwide to quell protests.

General Milley’s friends said that for the past 10 days, he had been agonized about appearing — in the combat fatigues he wears every day to work — behind Mr. Trump during the walk across Lafayette Square, an act that critics said gave a stamp of military approval to the hard-line tactics used to clear the protesters.

The general believed that he was accompanying Mr. Trump and his entourage to review National Guard troops and other law enforcement personnel outside Lafayette Square, Defense Department officials said.

Trump tells the Seattle mayor to ‘take back your city’ from protesters.

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Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

As protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have grown into a vast American reckoning with racism, President Trump renewed his threat to take federal action against local protesters in Seattle, telling government officials in Washington State that they needed to crack down on demonstrators in the city.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Trump said protesters were taunting government leaders, apparently referring to a group that has set up barricades to occupy territory in several blocks of a neighborhood, in what has become known as the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.”

“Take back your city NOW,” Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet directed at Mayor Jenny Durkan and Gov. Jay Inslee. “If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game.”

The president added, “Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle, run by Radical Left Democrats, of course. LAW & ORDER!”

Ms. Durkan responded with a tweet of her own: “Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker.”

Mr. Trump had previously discussed deploying active-duty troops to quell the protests in American cities, which experts said would require invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807. That led to blowback from former military leaders who warned that such action could cause the military to lose credibility with Americans.

In Washington, D.C., where National Guard troops were deployed last week to help in the crackdown on mostly peaceful protesters and occasional looters, there is now an investigation into the havoc that occurred a week ago Monday, and D.C. Guard members, typically deployed to help after hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters, say they feel demoralized and exhausted.

The president’s apparent threat to Seattle came as protesters in Richmond, Va., toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and monuments to the explorer and colonizer Christopher Columbus have been torn down or defaced in several cities.

The demand for racial justice reflects a considerable shift in public opinion, as Congress races to address police accountability and racial bias in law enforcement during a pivotal election year. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Wednesday from a brother of Mr. Floyd, who spoke out against the repeated police killings of black Americans and urged lawmakers to “make it stop.”

Inside the ‘Autonomous Zone,’ the police have retreated and protesters have set up a co-op.

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Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

On the streets next to a police precinct in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, protesters and officers spent a week locked in a nightly cycle of standoffs, at times ending with clouds of tear gas.

But facing a growing backlash over its dispersal tactics in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, the Seattle Police Department this week offered a concession: Officers would abandon their precinct, board up the windows and let the protesters have free rein outside.

In a neighborhood that is the heart of the city’s art and culture — threatened these days as rising tech wealth brings in gentrification — protesters seized the moment. They reversed the barricades to shield the liberated streets and laid claim to several city blocks, now known as the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.”

“This space is now property of the Seattle people,” read a banner on the front entrance of the now-empty police station. The entire area was now a homeland for racial justice — and, depending on the protester one talked to, perhaps something more.

What has emerged is an experiment in life without the police — part street festival, part commune. Hundreds have gathered to hear speeches, poetry and music. On Tuesday night, dozens of people sat in the middle of an intersection to watch “13th,” the Ava DuVernay film about the criminal justice system’s impact on African-Americans. On Wednesday, children made chalk drawings in the middle of the street.

One block had a designated smoking area. Another had a medic station. At the “No Cop Co-op,” people could pick up a free LaCroix sparkling water or a snack. No currency was accepted, but across the street, in a nod to capitalism, a bustling stand was selling $6 hot dogs. It was dealing in U.S. dollars.

At gatherings on Wednesday, protesters held discussions about their priorities, listening to speeches. There was no violence or looting, and the city’s fire chief wandered around the area talking with protesters about their needs and a collaborative path forward.

The crackdown on protesters has become a debacle for the D.C. National Guard.

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Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

The National Guard is now engaged in an investigation of the havoc a week ago Monday in downtown Washington, similar to after-the-fact examinations more common to battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be questions, interviews and competing narratives.

But on one point everyone is agreed: The first days of June, a calamitous period for the Trump presidency, have been a debacle for the National Guard.

There has been a torrent of criticism from Congress, senior retired military officers and Guard members themselves since more than 5,000 Guard troops — from the District of Columbia and a dozen states — were rushed to the streets of the capital to help in the crackdown on mostly peaceful protesters and occasional looters after the killing of George Floyd in police custody. The D.C. Guard has halted recruiting efforts, and at least four National Guard troops have tested positive for the coronavirus.

D.C. Guard members, typically deployed to help after hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters, say they feel demoralized and exhausted. More than 60 percent are people of color, and one soldier said he and some fellow troops were so ashamed in taking part against the protests that they have kept it from family members.

“Typically, as the D.C. National Guard, we are viewed as the heroes,” said another soldier, First Lt. Malik Jenkins-Bey, 42, who was the acting commander of the 273rd Military Police Company during the first days of the protests. But last week was different, he said.

Interviews with two dozen military officials as well as texts, internet chats, audio recordings, emails and documents obtained by The New York Times also show that:

  • Senior Army leaders — in an effort to prevent what they feared would be a calamitous outcome if President Trump ordered combat troops from the 82nd Airborne Division holding just outside city limits to the streets — leaned heavily on the Guard to carry out aggressive tactics to prove it could do the job without active-duty forces.

  • Guard leaders issued a flurry of ad hoc orders that put thousands of Guard troops in face-to-face conflict with fellow Americans.

  • Some of the Guard troops were just out of basic training, and others had no experience in controlling disturbances in the streets. Troops were allowed to drive heavy vehicles on the streets without the usual licensing.

In the next days, the Army is expected to release the results of a preliminary investigation into why the helicopters — a Black Hawk and, in particular, a Lakota with the Red Cross emblem designating it a medical helicopter — came to be used to terrorize protesters in Washington.

At the memorial to George Floyd in Minneapolis, a community reflects.

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Credit…Peter Van Agtmael for The New York Times

Many people stop by at the site where George Floyd was detained by the police. The crowd is a cross section of race and class, and the memorial there has become a place to gather and reflect.

“I came out here because I was angry,” Ranay Barton, 18, said. “The first thing that ran through my mind was to be mad at white people. When things like this happen, you tend to segregate yourself. But seeing all the support and solidarity calmed me down. All these people are different colors, from different places, coming together for a purpose. I feel like the world should be like that.”

Lux Thunberg, who is black, wants people there to engage in difficult conversations. “We need white people to stand up,” she said. “We need white people who are not comfortable with racism to talk to those who are.”

A long list of the names of black people killed by the police was chalked into the middle of the road. Businesses nearby have started to reopen. D.J.s set up, and as the sun sets and the day cools, the parking lot of the Speedway gas station across the street turns into a raucous dance party.

But even as the mood has lifted in recent days, the significance and heaviness of the place still dominates.

Ms. Barton worries that the unrest after Mr. Floyd’s killing may not lead to sustainable change.

“If his death doesn’t do anything, the world will fall apart,” she said. “People are fed up.”

Protesters topple a Jefferson Davis statue in Richmond, Va.

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Credit…Julia Rendleman/Reuters

Protesters toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, in Richmond, Va., on Wednesday night, as demonstrators across the country continued to target symbols of white supremacy after the death of George Floyd.

The statue was among a number of prominent Confederate monuments that had stood on Monument Avenue in Richmond, which was once the capital of the Confederacy. Local news reports showed photographs of it lying on the street, with the police nearby before a tow truck carted it away.

It came down one week after Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond said he would propose an ordinance to remove all four Confederate monuments the city controls along Monument Avenue. Mr. Stoney said he would introduce the bill on July 1, when a new state law goes into effect giving local governments the authority to remove the monuments on their own.

“Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy — it is filled with diversity and love for all — and we need to demonstrate that,” Mr. Stoney said in a statement then.

The statue of Davis was unveiled on June 3, 1907, and depicted him giving the speech in which he resigned from the United States Senate, according to a commission appointed by Mr. Stoney.

“We stand in solidarity with black and brown communities that are tired of being murdered by an out-of-control, militarized and violent police force,” the Richmond Indigenous Society, which took part in the rally, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Across the country, at least 10 monuments to Confederates or other controversial historical figures have been removed, and people have challenged similar monuments in more than 20 cities.

In Boston, the head of a statue of Christopher Columbus in the city’s North End neighborhood was removed sometime after midnight on Wednesday. And daybreak in Houston on Thursday revealed a Columbus statue had been doused with red paint.

And several protesters vandalized the statues of Columbus and Juan Ponce de León in downtown Miami on Wednesday evening, using red spray paint to tag them with, among other things, clenched fists, George Floyd’s name, and a hammer and sickle. The Miami Police Department said it had arrested several suspects, identified via surveillance cameras.

Police officers at New York protests are well-equipped, but masks are rare.

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Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

Riot helmets, ballistic vests, shields, batons — these are some of the pieces of equipment that have become staples for police officers in New York City during protests against racism and police brutality.

But increasingly, one piece of equipment has attracted attention with its absence: the face mask.

On any given day, any corner, any group of officers, some or all of them are not wearing masks. Others wear them below their chin. With masks now as ingrained as shirts and shoes in a vast majority of New Yorkers’ wardrobes, their widespread absence on the police is striking — and to a mayor and governor still fighting the coronavirus pandemic, troubling.

While police officers may forgo masks for any number of reasons, including peer pressure and a desire to more easily communicate, the images have fueled a perception of the police as arrogant and dismissive of protesters’ health — perhaps even at the peril of their own.

And although several officers have conspicuously knelt down with or hugged people at rallies, the widespread failure to use masks is creating a more standoffish look, one that protesters say suggests that the police operate above the rules — one of the very beliefs motivating the nationwide movement in the first place.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Andrew LaVallee, Michael Levenson, Dan Levin, Eric Schmitt, Amanda Taub, Peter van Agtmael and Michael Wilson.Further Coverage

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