The Arlington County police came under the scanner on Monday, June 1, after they helped US Park Police personnel to shoo away George Floyd protesters using tear gas and rubber bullets to allow President Donald Trump to hold a photo session at St John's Church. The county force was called out of Washington DC and its authorities later said they did not know the officers would be used to clash with the protesters.
The president was also criticized for his action by DC's Episcopal Bishop Marian Budde, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The issue sparked controversy after ACPD (Arlington County Police Department) officials in helmets and riot gear were seen helping the park cops to disperse crowds near St John's Church and Lafayette Park ahead of Trump's visit to the church where a part was set on fire by protesters on Sunday (May 31) night.
Widespread protests have engulfed the US in the wake of the agonizing death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The president and his family were briefly rushed to the White House bunker on Friday, May 29, as protests threatened to go overboard. Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey, a Democrat, slammed the incident on Monday in a tweet saying: "Appalled mutual aid agreement abused to endanger their and others safety for a photo op. We ordered @ArlingtonVaPD to immediately leave DC."
Trump, whose role in handling the riots protesting racism has been questioned, spoke in a televised speech from the Rose Garden on Monday evening and tear-gas canisters were heard exploding in the background before he moved to the church through Lafayette Park to pose with a Bible in his hand. "We have a great country. It won’t take long. It's not going to take long to see what is going on. It's coming back and it's coming back strong. It will be greater than ever before," he said amid the chaos.
Hours after his speech, Arlington officials pulled out their personnel who had been sent over on a mutual aid request from Park Police, which is generally deployed for suspect searches or to assist in significant incidents. The Arlington police personnel were active in their supporting role since Sunday, May 31. "ACPD's Civil Disturbance Unit responded to a mutual aid request by United States Park Police for assistance to maintain peace and order on federal park land," department spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLNow.
The "mutual aid" came under question after the church incident. "At the direction of the County Board, County Manager and Police Chief, ACPD officers have left the District. We are evaluating the agreements that allowed our officers to be put in a compromising position, which devalued the purpose of these mutual aid obligations," County Board member Katie Cristol tweeted.
The protesters appeared to be conducting peacefully before they were forced out using rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas on Monday evening. Trump, meanwhile, said in Rose Garden that he is a friend of peaceful protesters but also warned that he is the president of law and order. The president infamously said after violent protests initially started in Minneapolis following the killing of Floyd. Warning violent protesters, he said in a tweet: "When looting starts, shooting starts" and it saw the crisis snowballing further.
Trump slammed by religious, political leaders
Bishop Budde lashed out at the president for using force against the protesters and doing a photo session in front of the church. "I am outraged. I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call that they would be clearing with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop, holding a Bible, one that declares that God is love and when everything he has said and done is to enflame violence," she told the Washington Post.
"We so disassociate ourselves from the messages of this president. We hold the teachings of our sacred texts to be so so grounding to our lives and everything we do and it is about love of neighbor and sacrificial love and justice," she added. She also took on the president on CNN on Monday evening.
Biden also criticized Trump over the use of military action against protesters. "He's using the American military against the American people. He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets. For a photo. For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him. But I mean it when I say this: we can only do it together," the former vice president tweeted Monday evening.
Cuomo also slammed the president’s act of using military force to disperse peaceful protesters in a tweet, calling it "shameful". On Monday, Trump threatened to resort to military action in American cities if the ongoing violent demonstrations aren't stamped out. For that, the president would have to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 which has been passed several times before.