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2 Jul 2020 21:51
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  •   Home > News > International

    US protester responds to Donald Trump's church photo as George Floyd demonstrations continue

    Protesters in the US have had a "visceral reaction" to Donald Trump's staged photo opportunity outside a church near the White House, one protest organiser says.

    Protesters in the US have had a "visceral reaction" to Donald Trump's staged photo opportunity outside a church near the White House, one protest organiser says.

    And he warns the President's strong-man tactics could spark a renewed uprising.

    Riot police were deployed to disperse protesters who had gathered in the area as Mr Trump gave his "law and order" address to the nation.

    Minutes later he carried out a stage-managed walk to the nearby St John's Episcopal Church and held up a copy of the Bible before returning to the White House.

    Protest organiser Michael Sampson II said the display confirmed the worst fears of activists who have taken to the streets every night since unarmed black man George Floyd died in police custody.

    "It's been a very visceral reaction," Mr Sampson said.

    "There was already an anger and a tension in air, which is why you've seen all these protests popping up all around the country.

    "The fact he would order tear gas and riot police on peaceful protesters … just for a walk to a church to take a picture, that's a very scary thing for us."

    Mr Sampson lives in Jacksonville, Florida and helped organise a protest there on Saturday night as well as sister protests in more than 25 cities around the country.

    He has a number of specific changes he wants to see.

    These include the release of police body cam footage in officer-related shootings — something Mr Sampson said had never happened in Jacksonville — as well as changes to give citizens oversight of local police departments.

    He said until there was systemic change, protests would continue to break out across the country.

    "It ends when you have real institutional change. Locally, when you have police accountability for officers who commit crimes," Mr Sampson said.

    "When you have structures set up that gives regular civilians a chance to actually have oversight over their police departments.

    "Right now, you have the police investigate themselves and, more often than not, those investigations find the police in no wrongdoing."

    The white officer who was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck before he died has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

    The three other officers at the scene have been fired, but there have been no charges laid against them.

    This has fuelled many protesters who say justice has not been fully served.

    Protests 'escalated after tear gas was used'

    Alongside peaceful protests and at-times heavy-handed police responses, there has also been looting and violence in the streets.

    Mr Sampson said it was a tiny portion of people who took part in this, and the violence often escalated after the officially organised protests finished and police used tear gas and rubber bullets on those still around.

    "It causes people to run and be scattered, and situations like that is when you often see the fires and the looting, because it is not a stable situation for the crowd," he said.

    "It's harder to maintain, even for the organisers of the marching and rallies."

    Authorities have sometimes blamed the violence on outsiders who they say come from afar to deliberately cause trouble. But it's a theory Mr Sampson doesn't put much stock in.

    "We've seen that in the past couple of days in regards to the rhetoric, not only from the White House, but even in Jacksonville locally," he said.

    "We had 25 people who were arrested [at the protests on Saturday] and 23 of them were Jacksonville residents.

    "It's easy to blame it on somebody who lives outside the city or outside the state, but in reality, these are people who live in your city, who are frustrated with how the status quo is operating and has been affecting black lives."

    'Don't rely on Joe Biden to change things'

    Mr Trump has doubled down on his hardline approach to ending protests in the US and has threatened to deploy the military if states don't take strong enough action.

    Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele told the ABC that as the November Presidential election nears, he feared the situation could deteriorate further.

    "The President is coming off of, and still having to deal with, COVID-19 and the economic fallout from that — which has been massive," he said.

    "And now these racial and social tensions arising.

    "My concern is that this election turns into a very dark and ugly spot out of desperation to hold on to political power."

    Mr Sampson said he first became an activist after unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead by a white neighbourhood watch coordinator in 2012.

    It sparked widespread demonstrations and was pivotal in the start of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    That all happened while presumptive Democrat Presidential nominee Joe Biden was vice-president under America's first black president, Mr Sampson said.

    "So I don't think anyone has any illusions that simply electing Joe Biden will solve the systemic issues."

    "I think it takes a real deep dive into what are mechanisms and structures we can create, such as police accountability.

    "Perhaps Joe Biden proposing something like that and being very, not so much radical, but transformational."

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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