Barr vows ‘even greater’ law enforcement resources in unrest

Members of the DC National Guard block an intersection on 16th Street as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, Tuesday, June 2, 2020, near the White House in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. law enforcement officials vowed “even greater law enforcement resources and support” in the nation’s capital Tuesday night to respond to protests, as one local county pulled its officers out, saying they were used “for a purpose not worthy of our mutual aid obligations.”

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said she never requested help from neighboring jurisdictions to quell demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. She said D.C. officials flatly rejected a proposal floated by the Trump administration to take over the local police department and threatened legal action if they did.

The federal government has deployed law enforcement officials from numerous agencies and National Guard troops from a number of states have been sent to the District of Columbia. Attorney General William Barr is directing the federal law enforcement response in the city.

“There will be even greater law enforcement resources and support in the region tonight,” Barr said in a statement. “The most basic function of government is to provide security for people to live their lives and exercise their rights, and we will meet that responsibility here in the nation’s capital.”

Law enforcement officers, using flash bangs and tear gas, took aggressive action Monday night to clear protesters away from Lafayette Park near the White House in advance of President Donald Trump’s walk to a nearby church for a photo opportunity.

After participating in the show of force, which included officers on foot and horseback, Arlington County in Virginia pulled its officers out of the District of Columbia. The County Board issued a statement Monday night saying its officers were used “for a purpose not worthy of our mutual aid obligations.”

County Board Chair Libby Garvey said on Twitter she’s “appalled” that the mutual aid agreement was abused “for a photo op.”

In a phone interview, Garvey said the aid request came from U.S. Park Police, and that the agencies have provided aid to each other routinely over the years. She said Arlington Police had helped in the District on Saturday and Sunday without incident.

In a call with governors Monday, Trump and Barr also encouraged more aggressive action against those who cause violence during protests across the country following the killing of Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis policeman pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air. The demonstrations have turned violent in several cities, with fires ignited in Lafayette Park across from the White House.

The call raised questions about whether using more aggressive law enforcement measures against demonstrators protesting police brutality would only increase tensions.

Trump said he was “taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America.”

The president urged governors to deploy the National Guard, which he credited with helping calm the situation Sunday night in Minneapolis, and demanded that similarly tough measures be taken in cities that also experienced spasms of violence, including New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled,” Trump said. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment when asked whether Barr was involved in the decision to use tear gas on protesters outside the White House. A U.S. Park Police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Law enforcement officials had made a decision earlier Monday that they needed to extend the security perimeter around the White House after multiple fires broke out in Lafayette Park the night before, according to a law enforcement official who would not publicly discuss the security protocols and spoke on condition of anonymity.

After speaking in the Rose Garden, Trump then walked slowly out of the White House gates, senior aides and security with him, across the park to the landmark St. John’s Church, where every president, including Trump, has prayed. It had been damaged Sunday night in a protest fire.

Trump then stood alone in front of cameras and raised a Bible — and declared, “We have a great country,” he said. “Greatest country in the world.”

Between the protests and the response to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Guard has been deployed at its highest level in recent history, surpassing the number of troops sent to the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. More than 66,700 soldiers and airman have been activated — 45,000 to assist with the pandemic and more than 17,000 to help with the protests.

Other law enforcement resources are also being mobilized.

The Justice Department deployed the U.S. Marshals Service and agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration to supplement National Guard troops in Washington on Sunday. By midnight, Barr had ordered the FBI to deploy its Hostage Rescue Team, an elite tactical unit, to the streets of the nation’s capital, a senior Justice Department official said.

The U.S. Park Police and Secret Service have had dozens of officers out in riot gear in Washington for the last few nights, in addition to the Metropolitan Police Department. U.S. Customs and Border Protection was also sending officers, agents and aircraft around the country to assist other law enforcement agencies “confronting the lawless actions of rioters,” the agency said. The officers were being deployed in several states, though the official declined to provide specific details, citing security concerns.

Several major cities have enacted curfews, and in D.C. , Bowser set a 7 p.m. curfew for Monday and Tuesday. Violent demonstrators ignored the 11 p.m. curfew the night before as they set buildings and trash cans on fire and broke into stores to steal items from the shelves.

Most of the protesters have been peaceful and tried to discourage violence. Trump, Barr and others have tried to blame some of the civil unrest on left-wing extremist groups, including antifa, and other “anarchists.” Short for anti-fascists, antifa is an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.

The Justice Department has vowed to treat the “violence instigated and carried out by antifa & other similar groups” as domestic terrorism. Although there isn’t a specific federal domestic terrorism statute, prosecutors could charge other offenses and seek enhanced sentencing.

In addition to the National Guard, officials said that soldiers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Drum, New York, were heading to D.C. and would be based outside the city in case they are needed. They would be prepared to respond, but the officials said they are hopeful those troops will not be needed. If they are sent in, they are not expected to be conducting any law enforcement. The officials declined to say how many active-duty troops were en route.