President Donald Trump stressed unity, service and sacrifice at a West Point graduation ceremony Saturday amid growing tension between him and some of his top military and defense officials and as more demonstrations demanding racial justice are planned around the nation.
Trump’s commencement address came just days after chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, said in a public statement he should not have accompanied the president during a controversial photo-op at the historic St. John’s Church after peaceful protesters had been forcibly cleared from the area.
More protesters took to the streets across the United States and the world Saturday in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed as a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
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A closer look at some recent developments:
- People in Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone on Friday expressed frustration that conservative media were painting them as armed anarchists. The area has a festival-like energy where people are peacefully gathering and discussing how to better the world.
- State and local lawmakers have begun addressing issues of policing. In Louisville, Kentucky, no-knock search warrants have been banned by the city council. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a package of police reforms into law on Friday. Meanwhile in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz and the House Democratic majority are backing a slate of proposed reforms — but key Republican lawmakers say they’ll block most of the ambitious changes.
Trump salutes West Point grads amid tension with top military brass, and a nation beset with racial tension
President Donald Trump saluted the service and sacrifice of West Point’s graduating class on Saturday, encouraging them to stand strong for the cause of freedom and equality at a time of discord and division.
In remarks that emphasized unity, Trump told the 1,100 graduating cadets that what has historically made the U.S. unique is “the durability of its institutions against the passions and prejudices of the moment.”
“When times are turbulent, when the road is rough, what matters most is that which is permanent, timeless, enduring and eternal,” he said.
Trump’s address – his first at West Point – comes as his own relations with the military has grown strained and racial tensions and domestic unrest have roiled the nation.
Minority cadets, in a confidential survey obtained by USA TODAY, say they face blatant and subtle discrimination at the nation’s elite training ground for Army officers. The posting of racist videos in April by one their classmates prompted the survey.
The graduation ceremony itself was unconventional, a reflection of the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Cadets wearing white face masks marched onto an expansive parade field and watched the ceremony from folding chairs spaced six feet apart. No handshakes were allowed. Parents, relatives and friends weren’t allowed to attend.
– Michael Collins and Peter D. Cramer
U.S. Embassy in Seoul raises Black Lives Matter banner in solidarity with peaceful protests
The U.S. Embassy in Seoul hoisted a Black Lives Matter banner in front of its building Saturday in what it said was a show of solidarity with fellow Americans “grieving and peacefully protesting to demand positive change.”
On its Twitter feed, the embassy posted a photo of the banner, hanging near the U.S. flag, with an accompanying text in Korean and English.
“Our #BlackLivesMatter banner shows our support for the fight against racial injustice and police brutality as we strive to be a more inclusive & just society,” the embassy said.
– Doug Stanglin
Far-right activists turn out in London, Paris as counter to Black Lives Matter
Paris police fired tear gas Saturday and blocked demonstrators from marching through the city to protest police brutality and racial injustice.
Earlier, the largely Black crowd shouted at a group of white extreme-right activists who had climbed a building and unfurled a huge banner denouncing “anti-white racism.” Others tried to tear it down.
A police official told The Associated Press the decision was made to stop the march because of a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than 10 people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In London, a group of right-wing activists gathered around the statue of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Cenotaph war memorial, which were both boarded up Friday to protect them from vandalism.
A Black Lives Matter group there had called off a demonstration, saying the presence of the counter-protesters would make it unsafe. Some anti-racism demonstrators gathered in smaller numbers at Hyde Park.
Hundreds of protesters turned out despite strict police restrictions and warnings to stay home to contain the coronavirus.
– The Associated Press
Judge orders two-week halt to police use of tear gas, ‘violent’ tactics on peaceful protesters in Seattle
A federal judge has ordered Seattle police to temporarily stop using tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang devices to break up largely peaceful protests, a victory for groups who say authorities have overreacted to recent demonstrations over police brutality and racial injustice.
The liberal city with a lengthy history of massive, frequent protests has taken hits from all sides – from demonstrators, some city officials, the president and now a judge – over its response to recent protests.
Those on the right say the mayor and police chief aren’t being tough enough on protesters who have taken over part of a neighborhood near downtown Seattle, while those on the left say police tactics have been far too harsh.
U.S. District Judge Richard Jones ruling, siding with a Black Lives Matter group that sued the city, halts the use of violent police tactics for two weeks, though demonstrations this week have been calm.
The judge said weapons like tear gas and pepper spray fail to target “any single agitator or criminal” and they are especially problematic during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best have apologized to peaceful protesters who were subjected to chemical weapons. But Best has said some demonstrators violently targeted police, throwing objects and ignoring orders to disperse.
Kentucky to remove statue of Jefferson Davis from state Capitol
A state commission voted Friday to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis from where it has stood in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort for 84 years.
The state Historic Properties Advisory Commission called the special meeting Friday at the request of Gov. Andy Beshear, who said last week the statue of the Confederate president is an offensive symbol of slavery that should be moved to another location.
By late afternoon, workers had erected a rig that will be used to lift the 5-ton statue off its base. The crew of about 15 workers took a group photo in front of the soon-to-be gone statue and knocked off for the day just after 6 p.m. Work is scheduled to resume Saturday morning.
Beshear had said it is “long past due” to remove the statue, as many African Americans visiting their Capitol see it “as a symbol that they don’t matter, a symbol of the enslavement of their ancestors and a symbol of the continued systematic racism that we see in so many parts of our society.”
Davis was placed in the Rotunda in 1936 at the urging of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which commissioned the 12-foot marble statue.
– Joe Sonka, Louisville Courier Journal
Cuomo signs package of police reforms into law
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into a law Friday a package of police reforms in New York that gives the public access to police disciplinary records and bans police chokeholds.
The measures also include giving the state attorney general’s office the power in law to investigate when a person dies in police custody or in an encounter with police. It also makes it illegal for an individual to make a 911 report solely on race.
Cuomo was joined at the signing by the state legislative leaders, civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and the mothers of men killed by police in New York City.
The measures make New York the first state in the nation to enact broad policing reforms in the wake of Floyd’s death.
Cuomo also signed an executive order that will require every municipality and police force in the state to “develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs.” If the departments do not implement the changes by April 1, they will lose state funding, the Democratic governor said.
“He has raised the bar with how we deal with policing with this executive order,” Sharpton said of the move. “He has gone even beyond my expectations.”
– Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau
More on protests, George Floyd:
Sheriff to ‘de-deputize’ officers linked to threatening online posts after protest
Cook County, Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart was moving to temporarily strip as many as seven deputies of their police powers after the county’s public defender complained that deputies had apparently posted insulting and threatening comments online following a march in support of Black Lives Matter, his spokesman said Friday.
Spokesman Matt Walberg said the investigation to identify the deputies and then move to “de-deputize” those linked to the posts comes a day after Dart’s office launched an internal probe in response to a letter from Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli.
Campanelli informed Dart, whose office runs the jail, that the posts had appeared online after about 200 people, including many public defenders, participated in a demonstration Monday at the county jail in Chicago.
Campanelli cited a post that reads: “Bring in the fire hoses and horses this is not a protest.”
Contributing: The Associated Press