Trump calls George Floyd death 'shocking,' calls protesters 'thugs'

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to take action to bring the city of Minneapolis "under control," calling violent protesters outraged by the death of a black man in police custody "thugs" and saying that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

Trump's tweet - which was flagged by Twitter for violating rules about "glorifying violence" - came after protesters torched a Minneapolis police station, capping three days of violence over the death of George Floyd, who was captured on video pleading for air as a white police officer knelt on his neck.

Trump said he'd spoken to the state's Democratic governor, Tim Walz, and "told him that the Military is with him all the way."

"Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts," he wrote in the tweet.

Trump didn't clarify what he meant - Walz has already activated the National Guard - but the tweet drew another flag from Twitter, which did not remove the message, but added a warning label that prevents it from being shared or liked.

Slapping back, the White House reposted the message on its official Twitter account Friday morning. But Twitter quickly flagged that tweet as well, accusing the White House of promoting violence. White House social media director Dan Scavino turned the tweets into an image that he tweeted out as well.

The move came a day after Trump signed an executive order challenging the site's liability protections as he accuses it of stifling conservative voices.

Trump, who has often remained silent in the aftermath of police-involved killings and has a long history of defending police, has been uncharacteristically vocal this week, saying earlier Thursday that he felt "very, very badly" about Floyd's death and calling video capturing his struggle "a very shocking sight."

But his language grew more aggressive as violence boiled over in Minneapolis on Thursday night. "These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen," he wrote shortly before 1 a.m.

Kentucky's Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, speaking on CNN Friday morning, called on Trump to retract the statement flagged by Twitter.

"During these times, we can condemn violence while also trying to listen, to understand, to know that there is deep frustration, rightfully so, in our country -- that there has not been enough action on creating equality, opportunity, and in health care, and in a time of this COVID-19 epidemic, it's laid bare all of that," he said.

Jeffery Robinson, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Trone Center for Justice and Equality, called the statement "hypocritical, immoral, and illegal."

'While President Trump has recently claimed to be concerned about honoring the memory of Mr. Floyd, his actions consistently demonstrate a gross disregard for the racial terror and police violence that communities of color across the country experience on a regular basis," he said in a statement.

A police spokesman confirmed late Thursday that staff had evacuated the 3rd Precinct station, the focus of many of the protests, "in the interest of the safety of our personnel."

Twitter has stepped up its efforts to counter Trump's frequently factually incorrect claims. Earlier this week, the social media giant fact checked two of Trump's tweets about mail-in ballots, drawing his anger.

On Friday, the company said it had flagged Trump's tweet "in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts." The tweet remains accessible to users who click on the link, and Twitter said "it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance."

Supporters of the president balked at the move.

"It seems like they're carrying out a vendetta against the president," Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 GOP House leader, said on Fox News Friday.

But Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, who won the case that prevents Trump from banning his critics from his Twitter feed, said the First Amendment protects Twitter's right to respond to the president's speech, "including by attaching warnings to tweets that glorify violence."

Once more likely to hew to the "blue lives matter" mantra, Trump, his allies and Republicans in elected office across the nation have been questioning the conduct of the officer who pinned Floyd down and calling for justice. But some activists doubt that Trump has suddenly evolved on the issue of police brutality and instead see election year political calculations.

"This is the first race-tinged case that I've ever heard him address" as president, said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist and Trump critic who has known the president for decades. "I think the difference is a November election."

Trump has been silent on a number of high-profile police-involved killings, including that of Stephon Clark, a black man shot by Sacramento, California, police in 2018. He never addressed the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold by police trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Video of the encounter was viewed millions of times online, and Garner's dying words, "I can't breathe," became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. Trump has, however, invoked those words on several occasions to mock political rivals, even bringing his hands to his neck for dramatic effect.

And he has even appeared to advocate for the rougher treatment of people in police custody, speaking dismissively of the police practice of shielding the heads of handcuffed suspects as they are being placed in patrol cars.

But Trump and his allies have taken a different approach in response to Floyd, who can be heard and seen on tape pleading that he couldn't breathe before he slowly stops talking and moving.

Even conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who once called Black Lives Matter a "terrorist group," said Floyd's death was totally "unjustified" and he was "so mad."

The outpouring comes as the Trump campaign has sought to chip into the longstanding advantage Democrats have with black voters.