Washington — Democratic leaders denounced President Trump after law enforcement outside the White House deployed tear gas to disperse protesters before heand posed for photos, saying the event "dishonors every value that faith teaches us."
"At this challenging time, our nation needs real leadership," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. "The president's continued fanning of the flames of discord, bigotry and violence is cowardly, weak and dangerous."
Demonstrators gathered outside the White House on Monday, before the District of Columbia's 7 p.m. curfew, to protest police brutality and the death of George Floyd and other unarmed African Americans by law enforcement. The demonstration was described as peaceful, but officers in Lafayette Park, in front of the White House, began spraying tear gas and using flash bangs to clear the area as Mr. Trump prepared to speak from the Rose Garden.
After his remarks, during which Mr. Trump threatened to deploy the U.S. military against protesters in U.S. cities while declaring himself "your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters," the president then left the White House compound and walked across Lafayette Park to St. John's Episcopal Church, where he held up a Bible and posed for photos. The church had been damaged by fire during protests the night before.
Mr. Trump's visit to the so-called "Church of the Presidents" was denounced by Democrats who said his comments mirrored those of a dictator. Pelosi and Schumer accused the president of further dividing the country.
"At a time when our country cries out for unification, this president is ripping it apart," they said. "Tear-gassing peaceful protestors without provocation just so that the president could pose for photos outside a church dishonors every value that faith teaches us."
The pair of Democratic leaders called for Mr. Trump and law enforcement to "respect the dignity and rights of all Americans."
"Together, we must insist on the truth that America must do much more to live up to its promise: the promise of liberty and justice for all, which so many have sacrificed for — from Dr. King to John Lewis to peaceful protesters on the streets today," they said.
Protests have erupted in U.S. cities across the country following Floyd's death last week. While most have been peaceful, some demonstrations have led to violent clashes with law enforcement and damage to businesses and monuments.