“When the looting starts, the shooting starts” — a phrase used by U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the prospect of violence against protesters in Minnesota — was once uttered by a Miami police chief who faced sharp criticism from civil rights leaders during the turbulent era.
Trump used the phrase in reference to the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed during an arrest by a white police officer in Minneapolis on Monday.
On Thursday, the U.S. National Guard was called in to Minnesota, where fires and looting were occurring.
“These THUGS are dishonouring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump said in a tweet sent at almost 1 a.m. Friday.
“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!”
Twitter hid the tweet under a warning message because it violated the platform’s rules on “glorifying violence.”
Trump later said he didn’t want any shootings to occur.
“Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night — or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,” he said in a tweet Friday afternoon.
“It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media. Honour the memory of George Floyd!”
Multiple U.S. media reports have pointed out that the looting phrase was used by Miami Police Chief Walter Headley.
He made the comments in a December 1967 news article about a crackdown on what the article referred to as “hoodlums” in Black neighbourhoods.
The article said they had “taken advantage” of the civil rights movement and that an upswing in violent crime had occurred.
“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality,” Headley was quoted as saying. “They haven’t seen anything, yet.”
The article stated that the city wasn’t facing “racial disturbances” at the time because the chief spread the word that “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
In the article, Headley’s actions were strongly condemned by those working in the civil rights movement.
One leader, Floyd McKissick, the national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, accused Headley of fascism.
Marvin Davies, Florida field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Headley had “no place in a position of public trust.”
“If necessary, we will get a lawsuit to keep him from enforcing this type of arbitrary action,” he was quoted as saying.
The Miami Herald reported that Headley used the phrase again in the summer of 1968 after Miami police fatally shot three people during riots tied to the civil rights movement occurring alongside the Republican National Convention.
Headley, who was police chief for 20 years, died of cardiac arrest later that year.
His obituary describes him as the “architect of a crime crackdown that sent police dogs and shotgun-toting policemen into Miami’s slums in force.”
Protests demanding justice in the Floyd case have spread across the U.S. in the days since his death.
Floyd was shown on video pleading for air as a now-fired white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck.
“Please, I can’t breathe,” he can be heard saying.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Friday acknowledged the “abject failure” of the response to this week’s violent protests in his state, and called for swift justice for police involved in the death of Floyd.
Walz said the state would take over the response and that it’s time to show respect and dignity to those who are suffering.
“Minneapolis and St. Paul are on fire. The fire is still smouldering in our streets. The ashes are symbolic of decades and generations of pain, of anguish unheard,” Walz said. “Now generations of pain is manifesting itself in front of the world — and the world is watching.”
The governor cited a call he received from a state senator who described her district as “on fire, no police, no firefighters, no social control, constituents locked in houses wondering what they were going to do. That is an abject failure that cannot happen.”
Chauvin was taken into police custody on Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Trump expressed sympathies for Floyd’s family and said he has spoken with them.
Trump said he asked the U.S. Department of Justice to expedite the federal probe into Floyd’s death.
“It should never happen, should never be allowed to happen, a thing like that,” he said. “But we’re determined that justice be served.”
–With files from the Associated Press