Gov. Wolf and Trump: One Protest Movement, Two Very Different Responses

Volunteer community members clean up a looted store in Philadelphia, Monday, June 1, 2020 in the aftermath of protest and unrest in reaction to George Floyd's death while in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Jeff Taylor

June 1, 2020

“We move toward ending racism and promoting healing while keeping Pennsylvanians safe,” the governor said.

As it has across the nation, protests have taken place across Pennsylvania following Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s death while in police custody after an officer knelt on his neck even after he became unresponsive. 

While the majority of demonstrations calling for justice and a dismantling of systemic racism have been peaceful, instances of property damage, fires, and looting appear to have enraged President Donald Trump, who has used violent rhetoric in an attempt to discourage further civil unrest. 

Last week, Trump called protesters “THUGS” and said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” On Saturday, he called into question the legitimacy of the protesters, suggesting with zero evidence that they were “professionally managed.” He also threatened that protesters outside the White House on Saturday would have been met with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.” 

In a call to governors on Monday morning, Trump lashed out at them and called for more aggressive crackdowns. He told them “most of you are weak,” urging them to “dominate,” or else they would “look like a bunch of jerks.”

Trump also declared himself “the law-and-order president” during a press conference in the Rose Garden, and vowed to deploy “thousands and thousands” of U.S. troops to quell the protests, many of which have turned violent after police have gotten involved.

Gov. Tom Wolf, meanwhile, has struck a more balanced tone, urging for a “move toward ending racism and promoting healing while keeping Pennsylvanians safe.”

Wolf is in Philadelphia today, where the National Guard arrived overnight. There he is meeting with local officials and the Philadelphia Police Department to discuss the evolving situation on the ground.

The governor stressed that according to police, “the criminal activity we saw was not a part of protests.”

He also characterized those who took part in those actions as “people who took advantage of unrest.”

“Every Pennsylvanian should speak out against violence and oppression, and the recent murder of George Floyd in Minnesota has rightfully outraged many of us. Pennsylvanians are joining together to speak out against this injustice, and make their voices heard, peacefully,” Wolf said in a statement Sunday. 

“But yesterday was a challenging day for many cities in our commonwealth as these peaceful protests were co-opted by violence and looting. This is unacceptable.”

On Saturday, Wolf signed a disaster emergency declaration and announced the expanded activation of the Commonwealth Response Coordination Center at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), allowing for the direction of resources to counties impacted by violence. 

Wolf pledged to continue working with mayors and other local leaders “to make sure that everyone is able to make their voices heard, while keeping each other safe.” He also thanked first responders and called for peace. 

“I urge everyone to have respect for our communities and our neighbors. I urge all of us to continue to call out injustice. I don’t want to lose sight of why we are here,” Wolf said.

“I want to again send my condolences to the family and friends of George Floyd, and everyone impacted by oppression, racism, and violence,” he added. “Every day, in every corner of our society, we need to work at eliminating racism. That means we need to do our part to address racism – from the smallest thought to the biggest action – here in Pennsylvania, too.”


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