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Trump says DC police refused to help Secret Service at demonstration, but officers were there

Uniformed U.S. Secret Service police detain a protester in Lafayette Park across from the White House as demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Washington.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

By PETER HERMANN | The Washington Post | Published: May 30, 2020

WASHINGTON — Hours after uniformed Secret Service agents clashed with demonstrators outside the White House, President Donald Trump and District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser sparred, with the president criticizing the city's response to the protest and the mayor calling Trump's statements "an attack on humanity" and an "attack on black Americans."

The feud began over Twitter and continued at a news briefing on Saturday at which Bowser, a Democrat, accused Trump of using racial rhetoric once used in the segregationist South to divide the public in a time of crisis.

Trump began his four-part tweet calling the Secret Service "very cool & very professional," during protests Friday night and into early Saturday over death of George Floyd during his detention by police in Minneapolis.

Trump accused Bowser, who he tweeted "is always looking for money & help" of not letting "the D.C. Police get involved" in helping the federal officers. "'Not their job,' he quoted an unnamed person. "Nice!" His tweets also included references to "the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons," which he noted could have been deployed had the demonstrators gotten closer to the White House fence.

Bowser and District of Columbia Police Chief Peter Newsham said the local force joined with U.S. Park Police to form a unified command to deal with the demonstration in which participants toppled gates, wrested a riot shield from an officer and threw bricks, rocks, bottles and fireworks.

Newsham said he provided Secret Service officers with equipment they did not have, including riot helmets. The U.S. Secret Service issued a statement saying "The Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Park Police were on the scene."

Bowser launched her rebuttal on Twitter, and then later at a news conference called Trump's statements "an attack on humanity and an attack on America, and they make our city less safe."

Pressed, Bowser called the reference to "vicious dogs" a "not too subtle reminder to African-Americans of the segregationists who let dogs out on women, children and innocent people in the South. I'm just shaken that an American president would utter such words about fellow Americans."

Trump also appeared to encourage his supporters to come out Saturday, in a tweet calling it "MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???"

Demonstrations began again in the District on Saturday morning as a few dozen protesters met outside the White House. They included Jerry Collins, a 74-year-old deacon at Holy Family parish in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland.

Collins said he did feel encouraged in the past few days at the attention to Floyd and other cases of institutional racism. "I hope the groundswell maintains," he said. "It says people want change."

In the afternoon, hundreds of people gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol, many shouting "Let us breathe, let us breathe."

The protests in the District were among those in many cities nationwide following Floyd's death in police custody. The officer who put his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

In Richmond, Va., crowds vandalized buildings in Capitol Square, the park and state offices surrounding the Virginia state Capitol, prompting officials on Saturday to close the square until further notice.

A window was broken in the Barbara Johns Building, which houses the offices of the state attorney general. Also vandalized were the visitor's entrance to the state Capitol, the Virginia Supreme Court building and the Washington Building, which houses several state offices.

Friday's demonstrations in the District began about 5 p.m., with a gathering of several hundred people. Newsham said that group quickly grew to more than 1,000 people who marched south to the White House. A few skirmishes occurred there before the group marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, then through several neighborhoods, a highway and the Third Street Tunnel. A splinter group returned to the White House about 11:30 p.m.

District police, which have nearly 4,000 sworn officers, routinely coordinate closely with the Secret Service, and with other federal law enforcement agencies that help protect the nation's capital, including the Capitol Police and the Park Police. The agencies handle many demonstrations each year.

Newsham said his commanders worked with officials from the Secret Service and Park Police to "collectively make decisions on how to proceed." He added the Secret Service had sufficient numbers "to control their line."

The plaza in front of the White House along 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Lafayette Square, is federal property. On Friday night, Secret Service agents lined a row of metal gates placed along Pennsylvania Avenue near the edge of the park.

Authorities said bricks, fireworks and water bottles were thrown at officers, and some demonstrators sprayed mace. At least one demonstrator was able to grab a riot shield from Secret Service officers. Others tore bricks from the street and broke them into smaller pieces.

The Secret Service said in its statement that six people were arrested. "Demonstrators repeatedly attempted to knock over security barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue," the statement says. "No individuals crossed the White House Fence and no Secret Service protectees were ever in any danger."

At one point, demonstrators were able to wrest some of the metal barricades away from officers. Police issued two warnings to disperse at 3:30 a.m. before the line of officers with shields advanced through park, some firing chemical spray.

Newsham and Bowser said they are prepared for additional demonstrations over the weekend. Bowser said the Park Police has requested assistance from the National Guard if needed for "crowd control."

Trump began his series of tweets on Saturday morning: "Great job last night at the White House by the U.S. @SecretService. They were not only totally professional, but very cool."

The president added, "They let the "protesters" scream & rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone … got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard - didn't know what hit them. The front line was replaced with fresh agents, like magic. Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence.

"If they had they would … have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That's when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action. "We put the young ones on the front line, sir, they love it, and ... good practice."

About a half-hour later, Trump tweeted again, this time taking aim at the demonstrators: "They professionally managed so-called "protesters" at the White House had little to do with the memory of George Floyd. They were just their to cause trouble. The @SecretService handled them easily. Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???"

Bowser tweeted back, "I call upon our city and our nation to exercise great restraint even while this President continues to try to divide us. Our power is in peace, in our voices and ultimately at the ballot box in November."

The Washington Post's Clarence Williams, Perry Stein, Michelle Boorstein and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.

Demonstrators write graffiti on the side of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit next to Lafayette Square park near the White House in in Washington on Friday, May 29, 2020, as they protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
EVAN VUCCI/AP

A uniformed U.S. Secret Service police officer is covered with egg as demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Washington, near the White House.
EVAN VUCCI/AP