Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump spurred fresh outrage Monday after police used tear gas to clear protesters from outside the White House so he could pose for photographs at a nearby church damaged during civil unrest.
The move earned him a sharp rebuke from the city mayor, the Episcopal bishop, and leading Democrats including former vice president Joe Biden, who decried the use of force merely “for a photo.”
Trump’s visit to the historic St John’s Church, across the street from the White House came after he delivered an address denouncing vandalism that has followed anti-racism protests that have gripped the country for a week.
As he spoke, law enforcement — including military police — could be seen firing tear gas to clear peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park, outside the White House, so the president could walk over to the church.
Known as “the Church of the Presidents,” St. John’s was sprayed with graffiti and partially damaged by fire during unrest on Sunday.
“We have a great country,” Trump declared just outside the Episcopal church, where he held up a Bible. He did not answer questions from reporters before leaving again.
The backlash was swift.
Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate in the November election, slammed Trump for “using the American military against the American people,” after the president vowed to order an army crackdown on the sweeping civil unrest.
“He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets. For a photo,” Biden tweeted late Monday. “For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him.”
Biden also announced he would speak Tuesday in Philadelphia “on the civil unrest facing communities across America.”
Washington’s mayor Muriel Bowser called the move “shameful”.