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News / Northwest

Inslee rebukes Trump for calling governors ‘weak’ over George Floyd protests

By Joseph O’Sullivan, The Seattle Times
Published: June 2, 2020, 12:22pm

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday rebuked President Donald Trump after the president suggested governors were “weak” for not cracking down harder on protests over the death of George Floyd and threatened to send in the military to squelch demonstrations.

Inslee’s remarks came as Seattle and other cities again braced for more demonstrations, and as Trump in a news conference Monday afternoon threatened to deploy armed forces to the states.

“His admiration of authoritarians around the world should not allow him to violate 200 years of American tradition of local law enforcement,” Inslee said in a statement. “We have activated the National Guard in our state and made them available to any community who requests it.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes called Trump’s threat illegal.

“Even if this wasn’t blatantly illegal, does Trump actually want the nation to burn? Our city will fight any steps to use the military against the American people,” Holmes said.

Durkan called Trump’s threat a “shocking lack of understanding about the use and work of our U.S. military,” citing the Posse Comitatus Act.

Earlier on Monday, during a call with governors around the nation, Trump told the governors they “have to get much tougher,” according to The Associated Press. Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee in an email confirmed the governor was on that call.

“Most of you are weak,” Trump said, according to that report. “You have to arrest people.”

In a tweet Monday afternoon, Inslee shared a link to a CNN report about the call, and pushed back against the president.

“These are the rantings of an insecure man trying to look strong, after building his entire political career on racism and the lie of birtherism,” Inslee wrote in the tweet. “He is — again — failing to address the underlying injustices facing black Americans.

“It is not leadership,” the governor added.

In a news conference Monday afternoon on the demonstrations in Washington, Inslee said he didn’t respond to Trump during the call, saying, “I did not think it would be productive.”

Inslee in his remarks discussed how protesting is a constitutional right, but violent demonstrations are neither acceptable nor constitutional.

“The fact the people started fires that endangered human life in Seattle a couple nights ago, totally unacceptable,” he said. “Not constitutionally protected.”

“And we know that many of the people who were peaceably demonstrating were urging those people to knock it off, sometimes to no avail,” said Inslee. “We know that those folks need to be criminally prosecuted as appropriate, and they will be.”

The governor added that such violence wouldn’t obscure the justice of the underlying protests in the death of Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.

Inslee over the weekend activated the National Guard to help local law enforcement as protests — some peaceful, some devolving into destruction and looting — were held in Seattle, Bellevue, Auburn, Renton and Spokane.

About 300 Washington National Guard members were available Monday and in position to help with additional protests, said commander Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty in the news conference.

Daugherty said residents should remain calm, and “please don’t run around with weapons.”

“The more weapons there are at a site, the more likely you are to have an accidental shooting,” he added later.

In Olympia, law enforcement arrested 13 protesters Sunday evening and into Monday morning during a demonstration in which a large rock cracked a glass door at City Hall and objects were thrown at police.

Demonstrators and police faced off for hours overnight, with protesters leaving only after police fired more than a dozen flash-bang grenades and some pepper ball rounds over a couple hours.

Still, Olympia appeared to be spared much of the damage seen elsewhere in the region and nation after Floyd’s death May 25, when a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for several minutes. That officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged last week with third-degree murder in Floyd’s death.

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Sunday’s protest started peacefully around 5 p.m., said Lt. Paul Lower of the Olympia Police Department, and “things were fairly peaceful for quite some time.” People marched through the city and down to the Capitol building before returning to City Hall.

Police arrested 11 people on suspicion of vandalism and disorderly conduct and two others for third-degree assault, according to Lower.

Damage downtown otherwise appeared minimal, with graffiti sprayed on the walls of a pet shop.

On Saturday evening, demonstrators gathered outside City Hall for a vigil to mark Floyd’s death. More than 100 people gathered with signs and electric candles, and later marched to the Capitol building, chanting peacefully.

At that demonstration, Deron Bozeman told the crowd about growing up in Minneapolis and knowing the areas where Floyd was killed and where the riots occurred.

While the focus has largely stayed on the role of police in Floyd’s death, the problems with racism go much deeper, Bozeman — a 32-year-old who works in public education — told those gathered at City Hall.

“We’ve got to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, that’s the bigger picture here,'” Bozeman, who is Black, said. “Because it’s in all of us.

“But the joy of it all is, it could change,” he added.

In an interview after his remarks, Bozeman said he doesn’t condone the unrest.

“Nobody condones breaking a window, nobody condones setting things on fire,” he said. “But for African American people, my people, the Black people, for so long without a voice, there’s almost no other way to act.”

And he didn’t support some of the signs seen at Saturday’s rally agitating against law enforcement, said Bozeman, who lives in Olympia. “It’s not the police, it’s in all of us.”

“And until we realize that, nothing’s going to change,” he said later. “Nothing’s going to change.”