Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that the previously peaceful protests over George Floyd’s death in police custody have been “hijacked” by rioters committing “unjust violence.”
McConnell, R-Ky., from the Senate floor, said he “completely” supported and “fully defends” citizens’ rights to engage in “peaceful protest,” but condemned the riots that spread across the nation over the weekend as those protests turned violent.
“Over the last several days, citizens have watched with horror as cities across America have convulsed with looting, riots and destruction,” he said. “On a nightly basis, initially peaceful demonstrators have been hijacked.”
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He added: “Americans have watched protests dedicated to ending unjust violence mutate into riots that inflict unjust violence themselves.”
“Free speech and peaceful protest are central American liberties,” he continued. “Looting, rioting, assault and arson are violent crimes that have no place—no place whatsoever—in our society.”
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McConnell went on to say that it “is not a display of courageous citizenship to smash and destroy small businesses that have just barely hung on through the pandemic,” or “to set fire to a church.”
“You do not advance peace by committing assault. You do not advance justice by inflicting injustice upon your neighbors,” he said. “You do not promote the rule of law through anarchy. There is no constitutional right to commit violent crimes or to terrorize communities. Period.”
He added: “This cannot continue. It’s already gone on for entirely too long.”
McConnell went on to say that if state and local leaders “cannot or will not secure the peace and protect citizens and their property,” the federal government “is ready to stand in the breach.”
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also admonished the rioters but said most protests overall have been peaceful. “The overwhelmingly peaceful protests do honor to the generations of Americans who have stood up and sat in – and shouted at the tops of their lungs – in the urgent mission to make American a more perfect union. The small minority who exploit the moment for violence and mayhem are wrong and do not advance the cause of justice.”
Schumer continued, “I would note that while over 4,000 protesters have been arrested in the past week, only one of the four police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd has been arrested. While that statistic does not excuse the violence we have seen, it certainly helps to explain the frustration and anger right now.”
McConnell also voiced support for peaceful protesters and echoed their concerns about violence against black Americans and about racial injustice.
“Americans from coast to coast have been grieved and horrified by the killings of African-American citizens: Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minneapolis,” he said, adding that those “disturbing events do not look like three isolated incidents.”
“They look more like the latest chapters in our national struggle to make equal justice and equal protection of the law into facts of life for all Americans, rather than contingencies that sometimes depend on the color of one’s skin,” he said. “Obviously this struggle remains incomplete.”
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Of Floyd’s death, he said, “In no world whatsoever should arresting a man for an alleged minor infraction involve a police officer putting his knee on the man’s neck for nine minutes while he cries out, ‘I can’t breathe’ and then goes silent.”
McConnell added that he “completely” supported citizens engaging in “peaceful protest,” and said the “nation cannot deafen itself to the anger, pain, or frustration of black Americans.”
“Our nation needs to hear this,” he said, but added: “These senseless and destructive riots need to end, not next week, not tomorrow night, right now. Right now. We have real work to do.”
Schumer said, similarly, “We have to make progress on these issues, right now. Not later, not next year, not after the next George Floyd, right now.”
The Senate leaders’ comments come after riots escalated over the weekend in Washington, D.C., New York City, Minneapolis and other cities.
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Attorney General Bill Barr has directed the Bureau of Prisons to send riot teams to Washington and Miami to respond to the unrest, Fox News has been told. The riot team was present in Miami during protests over the weekend.
Fox News’ Jake Gibson contributed to this report.