President Donald Trump has threatened to send in the military to quell growing civil unrest in the US over the death of a black man in police custody.
He said if cities and states failed to control the protests and “defend their residents” he would deploy the army and “quickly solve the problem for them”.
Protests over the death of George Floyd have escalated over the past week. Presidential candidate Joe Biden criticised Mr. Trump on Tuesday for “serving the passions of his base”. “We’re not going to allow any president to quiet our voice,” the Democrat said, referencing the US constitution which guarantees protestors’ freedom to assemble.
On Tuesday the Las Vegas sheriff said an officer died in a shooting after police attempted to disperse a crowd. Dozens of people have been injured as authorities used tear gas and force to disperse protests which have swept more than 75 cities. Four officers meanwhile were shot and injured on Monday night during unrest in St Louis, Missouri.
The protests began after a video showed Mr Floyd, 46, being arrested in Minneapolis on 25 May and a white police officer continuing to kneel on his neck even after he pleaded that he could not breathe. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and will appear in court next week.
Three other police officers have been fired. The Floyd case has reignited deep-seated anger over police killings of black Americans and racism. It follows the high-profile cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York; and others that have driven the Black Lives Matter movement.
For many, the outrage also reflects years of frustration over socio-economic inequality and discrimination, not least in Minneapolis itself.
What did Trump say?
The president delivered a brief address from the White House Rose Garden, amid the sound of a nearby protest being dispersed.
Mr Trump said “all Americans were rightly sickened and revolted by the brutal death of George Floyd” but said his memory must not be “drowned out by an angry mob”.
He described the scenes of looting and violence in the capital on Sunday as “a total disgrace” before pledging to bolster the city’s defences.
“I’m dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property,” he said.
He called on cities and states to deploy the National Guard, the reserve military force that can be called on to intervene in domestic emergencies, “in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets”.
About 16,000 troops have been deployed so far. Mr Trump added: “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary… then I’ll deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Can he do that?
In order to take that step, the president would have to invoke the Insurrection Act, which in some circumstances first requires a request from state governors for him to do so.
This law was last invoked in 1992 during riots in Los Angeles following the acquittal of four police officers charged with assaulting black motorist Rodney King.
Mr Trump’s warning was met with swift criticism from senior Democrats. Joe Biden, the party’s presumptive presidential candidate, said Mr Trump “[was] using the American military against the American people”.
Following his address, Mr Trump walked to a nearby church which had been damaged by protesters on Sunday night. He and a number of aides stood at the steps of the building as Mr Trump held up a Bible in front of the gathered press.
His actions were condemned by Washington’s Episcopalian bishop, Mariann Budde.
“He took the symbols sacred to our tradition and stood in front of a house of prayer in full expectation that would be a celebratory moment,” she said.
“There was nothing I could do but speak out against that.”