NEW YORK –– Today, Everytown for Gun Safety and its grassroots networks, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, responded to President Donald Trump’s tweet about protests following the death of George Floyd, which read, “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to 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. Thank you!”.
Trump’s statement about these protests is starkly different from his statements about protests primarily led by white Americans. In 2017, Trump called Unite the Right rally goers in Charlottesville “very fine people,” and earlier this month, he called predominantly white protestors who stormed the Michigan Capitol Building with long guns “very good people.”
“Make no mistake about it, ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ is a reckless and incendiary statement that is likely to incite further gun violence,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “The President’s deeply disturbing and racist statements are all the more notable because when groups of mostly white armed gun extremists descended on government buildings around the country to intimidate lawmakers into ending critical public health measures, he not only didn’t condemn them, he cheered them on.”
“When white supremacists stormed Charlottesville with torches and guns, the president said there were ‘very fine people on both sides,’” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “When mostly white crowds protested stay at home orders, the president encouraged them. But when predominantly Black crowds protest against the deaths of Black people, the president called for more gun violence. We all –– particularly white Americans –– need to take a stand against injustice and racism to stop this dangerous president and his allies.”
The protests, which began in Minnesota and spread to cities across the nation, started after the killing of George Floyd, a father of two, by a white Minneapolis police officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd cried out that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd was pinned down to the pavement — while handcuffed — outside of a market where employees had called police about a counterfeit bill.
George Floyd is one of several Black people who have died in recent weeks in incidents of racism and gun violence: among others, on February 23, Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two white men in Georgia while he was out on a run. There have also been multiple instances of officer involved shootings: on March 13, Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville police, and on May 6, a 21-year-old Black man named Sean Reed was fatally shot by Indianapolis police.
As we mourn for the people whose stories have become well-known, we also know that there are countless similar stories that haven’t made the news. Black men and boys are 15 times more likely than white men and boys to be shot and injured in assaults involving guns, and gun violence is the leading cause of death in America for Black children. And according to the Washington Post, Black Americans “account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate.”
According to NBC News, the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” was coined by Miami’s police chief, Walter Headley, in 1967, when he addressed his department’s “crackdown on … slum hoodlums.” Headley also said that law enforcement was going after “young hoodlums, from 15 to 21, who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign,” and that “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.” He credited Miami’s lack of “racial disturbances and looting” with the fact that he let it be known that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”