President Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St....

President Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House on Monday in Washington. President Trump delivered an overtly provocative and political Rose Garden speech Monday evening before posing at the church. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

As the nation reeled in the wake of George Floyd's killing last week, we hoped this might be a moment of change.

But such change requires leadership. And hopes for that were dashed by President Donald Trump’s overtly provocative and political Rose Garden speech Monday evening, which he delivered even as he used military force to quell protests happening just outside the White House, apparently to clear the way for a meaningless photo-op with a Bible in front of a local church. Trump’s suggestion that he can deploy the military to states where governors aren’t doing what he wants was dangerous and ugly, and won’t serve to calm anyone who is scared, sad, or angry.

Nor are protests a form of “domestic terrorism,” as Trump labeled them. And pushing back on protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets is not the answer.

The violence from those seeking to exploit Floyd's death for their own gains, drowning out the voices of legitimate protest we must hear, cannot continue. After unacceptable incidents in New York City, there was little choice but to enact a curfew to stop the criminal behavior. But neither can the behavior that killed Floyd be allowed to go on.

Even as Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground for nearly nine minutes, our nation already was reeling. We've been worried for our health, our financial well-being, and our future. More than 104,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and more than 42 million have lost their jobs — all of it amid a growing political and cultural divide that has torn the nation apart.

Then came Floyd's death. Over and over, we watched Chauvin's knee push down on Floyd's neck, as three other officers did nothing to stop the fatal choking. It was only the latest case of police assaulting an unarmed black man but it lit on fire the systemic racism that has plagued this country for generations.

We must listen to Floyd's brother, Terrence, who came to Minneapolis Monday to plead for peace and justice. His message, vastly different from Trump's, must resonate, not only among protesters and all hoping for change, but also among elected officials and law enforcement leaders.

There are building blocks from the last several days. Instances of violence were far outnumbered by examples of peaceful demonstration and unity. Watching an NYPD SUV roll through a crowd of protesters was horrifying; uniformed officers taking a knee with demonstrators was inspiring. Condemnations of Chauvin from police chiefs around the country were welcome. Now protest leaders must set out a specific agenda for the changes they demand, and engage their fellow citizens in a sustained campaign to enact laws holding police accountable for acts of excessive force.

Let's use this moment to define our nation as one that will not make us confront each other, but that will finally confront our legacy of racial injustice.

— The editorial board


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