A small-town Ohio sheriff doubled down on a dire warning to both criminals and protesters on Thursday, declaring that his police officers will “shoot back” at anyone who fires bullets or throws bricks at them.
He urged police and sheriffs throughout the United States to do the same amid months-long protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism in the country.
“If you shoot at the police, I want to make no mistake about it, we will shoot back,” Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said Thursday, repeating a statement issued on his Facebook page a day earlier.
“We have rubber bullets but we don’t have a lot. We have far more real ones, and if you throw bricks at police, we consider that deadly force.”
Jones says he issued the warning after a murder suspect shot one of his police officers during a car chase on Monday. The suspect is from the local community of Hamilton, Ohio, and there are no indications that he was part of a protest. The shooting happened during a traffic stop, Jones previously told reporters.
In Jones’ latest video, he quickly jumped from that local murder case to a rant against anti-racism protests in other parts of the country, complaining about people on “skateboards” who “think it’s a game” to “burn communities down” and “knock windows out.”
“What happens in these other states, in California, in Portland, in New York City, it will come to your neighbourhood,” Jones said on Thursday, speaking to police chiefs and sheriffs.
Jones said he released the video on Thursday to clear up questions about his previous Facebook post.
“IF YOU THINK ABOUT COMING TO BUTLER COUNTY TO ABUSE POLICE THINK AGAIN,” the all-caps warning said.
“You shoot at the police, expect us to shoot back,” Jones is quoted as saying later in the post.
Jones is the sheriff of Butler County, a rural region north of Cincinnati where more than 80 per cent of the citizens are white. Hundreds of locals participated in peaceful protests against racism earlier this summer, according to local reports.
Jones has sparked controversy in the past, including earlier this summer when he refused to enforce coronavirus mask rules in the county. He also refused to equip his deputies with naloxone, a drug meant to reverse opioid overdoses, in 2017.
Jones’ threat comes amid months of demonstrations in the United States, which have been fuelled by several cases of police violence against Black citizens.
The protests erupted after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May, and have continued in recent days following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who was shot multiple times in the back while trying to get into an SUV in Kenosha, Wis.
The Kenosha protests have been marred by cases of looting, car-burning and violence.
One self-styled vigilante and police supporter allegedly killed two protesters and injured a third with an assault-style rifle last week, after travelling to the community from another state.
Police brutality and the unrest have become a top issue in the U.S. presidential election campaign. President Donald Trump has declared himself the candidate of “law and order,” siding with police and refusing to condemn violence from his far-right supporters. He has also demonized protesters as “anarchists” and “rioters,” while pushing conspiracy theories about teams of black-clad “thugs” showing up at protests to cause mayhem.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden has accused Trump of trying to stoke racial divisions in order to present himself as a solution to a problem he’s made worse.
Trump announced on Wednesday that he will cut funding to so-called “lawless cities” that he deems are not sufficiently supporting their police. He specifically cited Portland, Seattle and New York City — which are all run by Democrats — in a memo on the subject.
Jones is not the first sheriff to threaten local violence amid protests in other parts of the country. In July, for example, Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels said he would deputize gun owners to fight off those who would “tear up” his community.
Antifa is a loose far-left movement with no central leadership.
There is no evidence to support rumours of anarchists being shipped into U.S. towns to cause chaos.