Donald Trump tweeted an apparent threat against Minneapolis protesters in the early morning hours on Friday, saying he would send in the National Guard to respond and vowing that, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Trump’s tweet, which also referred to violent protesters as “THUGS,” came after demonstrations in the city grew violent in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Late on Thursday, protesters swarmed the police department’s 3rd Precinct building, where the officers involved in Floyd’s death had been stationed, and set it on fire. This came a day after protests grew violent, leading to protesters setting fires across the city and looting stores.
As many observers noted, it appeared that Trump lifted the threat to shoot looters from a notorious former Miami police chief who was accused of racist crackdowns against black protesters during the Civil Rights era.
The Washington Post noted that the phrase was originally attributed to Miami Police Chief Walter Headley, who in 1967 promised a violent response to black protesters in the area.
LMT Online noted that Headley adopted a tough approach following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., saying that the relative calm in Miami compared to unrest in other cities was due to his “get tough” warning issued in “the Negro district” of the city.
“This is war,” Headley was quoted as saying in 1967. “We haven’t had any serious problems with civil uprisings and looting because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Headley’s approach was decried by many at the time as racist, with some civil rights leaders calling on Miami elected officials to push back against the approach.
Trump’s repeating of the phrase has led to a considerable outcry, with many slamming what appeared to be a threat to authorize deadly force for looters. Many pointed out that it would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment to open fire on looters.
Trump doesn't care at all about the Constitution, of course, especially when he's trying to scare voters. But actually following a policy of "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" would violate the 4th Amendment, for starters. See Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985). https://t.co/BRWSUn8CaK pic.twitter.com/GA6dAnHwm7
— Orin Kerr (@OrinKerr) May 29, 2020
Others have also criticized Trump for lifting the phrase from a police chief who had been accused of racism and appeared to embrace police brutality when dealing with black protesters.
“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” is a threat coined by Miami Police Chief Walter Headley, who promised violent reprisals on black protesters in 1967. He also said: “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality. They haven’t seen anything yet.” https://t.co/inm7T4N804 pic.twitter.com/yfYY59Xfel
— Todd Zwillich (@toddzwillich) May 29, 2020
Critics have accused Trump of racism throughout his presidency, including what many believed was his defending white supremacist protesters who turned violent during demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. After Trump’s tweet and the apparent threat against Minneapolis protesters, many pointed out the difference in language that Trump used to describe the “very fine people” involved in the Charlottesville incident compared to those he called “THUGS” in Minneapolis.