Fallout from the death of George Floyd in police custody is also beginning to impact the 2020 presidential race, potentially narrowing the Democratic field of vice presidential hopefuls and putting both leading candidates on the spot.
As protests continued to erupt across the country, Reuters reported Monday that the Hennepin County Medical Examiner has ruled Floyd’s death a homicide. The black man was allegedly murdered by Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, who is white.
A viral cellphone video shows Floyd lying face down on the pavement in handcuffs with Chauvin kneeling on his neck. Floyd says that he can’t breathe. Chauvin keeps his knee on the man’s neck for almost nine minutes, even after his body goes limp. A Minneapolis Fire Department ambulance report says Floyd was pulseless when he was placed on a stretcher. He was pronounced dead at the hospital, The Associated Press reported.
Chauvin has been fired and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Minnesota’s Star Tribune called it an “unusually swift move” by the prosecutor’s office and the first time a white Minnesota police officer has been charged in the death of black citizen.
The cellphone footage sparked massive outrage in Minneapolis and across the country, unleashing days of unrest, police in riot gear, National Guard units on American streets, and hard questions — including how presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump will respond to a moment of national reckoning.
Until Monday evening, Trump’s response has mostly been to Tweet and encourage governors to use military force. In a conference call, he urged governors to “dominate” the protests, “or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks,” CNN reported.
Some presidential allies — like campaign donors and congressional Republicans, including several leading senators — privately and publicly lobbied Trump to appeal for national unity and adopt a tone of “healing and calm,” according to CNN.
Instead, when Trump addressed reporters in the Rose Garden on Monday evening, he blamed local leaders for the growing protests, threatened to send active-duty military units to states where governors do not deploy the National Guard in “overwhelming” numbers, and called himself “your president of law and order.”
“As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers,” to Washington, he said, citing unruly protests that had reportedly caused the president to take refuge in the White House bunker.
Defense department officials told CNN a military police battalion of 200 to 250 active-duty personnel was being deployed to the capitol.
Helicopters and detonations could be heard in the background as cameras awaited the president and again as he returned to the White House. CNN reported that “peaceful protesters” near the grounds were “dispersed with tear gas and flash bangs.”
In the Washington Post on Monday, “The Plum Line” columnist Greg Sargent argued that Trump’s response to the protests has left a national leadership vacuum, an opportunity for Biden to gain ground — or lose it.
The presumptive nominee has been stuck inside during safe-at-home coronavirus directives, reaching supporters only through social media or literal home videos. On Monday, Biden ventured out to Wilmington, in his home state of Delaware, to meet with community leaders at a black church.
One way to rally support would be to select a running mate who could sway voters on the fence about supporting another 70-something-year-old white male nominee. Biden announced in March his intent to chose a female running mate if he is nominated, but his short list might have grown a little shorter this past week.
Questions arose Friday about the viability of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar as a vice-presidential candidate on Friday amid reports that the former prosecutor chose not to present charges in multiple officer-involved shootings during her tenure, instead ceding the cases to a grand jury — a practice some experts said could favor the officers, The New York Times reported.
“I think that was wrong, now,” Klobuchar told MSNBC on Friday. She was a prosecutor in Hennepin County for seven years, ending in 2006. “I think it would have been much better had I took the responsibility, and looked at the cases and made the decision myself.”
Chauvin reportedly received similar treatment in a shooting involving several other officers in 2006 that was adjudicated after Klobuchar left for the Senate.
When asked if her record disqualified her to be on the Democratic ticket, Klobuchar told MSNBC’S Andrew Mitchell that was Biden’s decision to make.
Trump’s rhetoric about the protests may have offered Biden a way out of that tight spot on Friday, when Biden said he was “furious” with Trump’s call for “violence against American citizens during a moment of pain for so many.”
But Biden is not alone.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said at a press conference Thursday that days of protests were the result of “anger and sadness that has been ingrained in our black community, not just because of five minutes of horror, but 400 years.”
“If you’re feeling that sadness, and that anger, it’s not only understandable, it’s right. It’s a reflection of the truth that our black community has lived,” the mayor continued.
And on Monday, Houston police chief Art Acevedo scolded the president, via CNN. “Please,” he told Trump, looking at the camera, “if you don’t have something constructive to say, keep your mouth shut, because you’re putting men and women in their early twenties at risk. It’s not about dominating. It’s about winning hearts and minds.”
Further, Acevedo encouraged protestors to redirect their ire. “Let’s shift this where it needs to be: To the voting booth.”