WASHINGTON/MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday urged state governors to crack down on protests over racial inequality that have engulfed the nation’s major cities, as officials extended curfews in hopes of preventing a seventh night of looting and vandalism.
The protests, largely peaceful during the day before turning violent at night, erupted over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died in Minneapolis police custody after being pinned beneath a white officer’s knee for nearly nine minutes.
An independent autopsy ordered by Floyd’s family and released on Monday found that his death was a homicide and he died of “mechanical asphyxiation,” meaning from some physical force that interfered with oxygen supply.
Those results contradicted preliminary findings by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office that Floyd, 46, died from a combination of factors, including possible substances in his system and underlying medical conditions.
The new findings emerged after Trump spoke to the governors.
“You have to dominate,” he told them in a private call obtained by media including Reuters. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time – they’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
Trump said the federal government was going to clamp down “very strong” on the violence.
Dozens of cities across the United States remain under curfews at a level not seen since riots following the 1968 assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The National Guard deployed in 23 states and Washington, D.C.
Curfews were extended in Washington, D.C., where authorities fought to put out fires near the White House overnight; in Minnesota, which has experienced some of the worst violence, and in Los Angeles.
One person was killed in Louisville, Kentucky, overnight where police and National Guard troops returned fire while trying to disperse a crowd. Police in Chicago, the country’s third-largest city, fielded more than 10,000 calls for looting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot told a briefing.
The unrest, which erupted as the country was easing lengthy lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus, began with peaceful protests over Floyd’s death.
Derek Chauvin, a since-fired 44-year-old officer, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was released on $500,000 bail and is due to appear in court on June 8, according to jail records.
On Monday, dozens of people quietly paid their respects to Floyd at the scene outside the Cup Foods where he lost his life. Visitors left flowers and signs honoring Floyd on the pavement. A little girl wrote, “I’ll fight with you,” in aqua blue chalk in the road.
“This is therapeutic. My heart was real heavy this morning so I came down extra early and when I got here, the heaviness lifted,” said Diana Jones, 40, the mother of four children. “This right here let’s me know that things are going to be ok.”
Terrence Floyd, the victim’s brother, told the gathering he wanted people to get educated, vote and not destroy their own communities. “Let’s do this another way,” he said.
In the U.S. capital, St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic place near the White House where many U.S. presidents have worshipped, suffered minor damage while the nearby headquarters of the AFL-CIO labor group was vandalized.
Floyd’s death was the latest to prompt an outcry over racism in law enforcement. It reignited outrage across a politically and racially divided country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with African Americans accounting for a disproportionately high number of coronavirus cases.
The U.S. Justice Department has directed the Bureau of Prisons to send riot-control teams to Miami and Washington, D.C., to help manage the protests, a senior department official told reporters.
Department investigators are interviewing people arrested during protests who might face federal charges for such offenses as crossing state lines to incite violence, the official said.
Many cities affected by the unrest are restarting some normal economic activity after more than two months of stay-at-home orders to stem a pandemic that has killed more than 104,000 people and plunged more than 40 million people into joblessness.
Trump has condemned the killing of Floyd and promised justice but has made no major public statement to address the crisis. In tweets he has described protesters as “thugs” and threatened to use the U.S. military.
“These are terrorists … They’re Antifa and they’re the radical left,” Trump told the governors, referring to the shorthand name for a loosely organized movement of anti-fascists but without offering evidence.
Critics accuse the Republican president, who is seeking re-election in November, of stoking conflict and racial tension rather than seeking to bring the country together and address the underlying issues.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, critical of Trump’s handling of the crisis, met black community leaders in a church and said he would create a police oversight board within his first 100 days in the White House.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Andy Sullivan, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Lucy Nicholson, David Shepardson, Michael Martina and Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Paul Simao and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Howard Goller.