Donald Trump’s escalating war with Twitter has taken a new turn since rioting broke out in Minneapolis over the killing of George Floyd. Raging at the sight of looting and vandalism in a major city, the president Thursday night tweeted that he would not stand for it.
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd,” he wrote, “and I won’t let that happen. 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!”
The president’s tweets come following the death of Mr Floyd, 46, who died on Monday after being held down by a police officer who knelt on his neck, despite him telling the officer he could not breathe.
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The second tweet was flagged by Twitter, who put it behind a click-through warning saying it “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence”. It was then quoted in full by the official White House account, where it was not immediately flagged.
The threatening words at the end of the tweet, however, aren’t Trump’s own. They belong to a Miami police chief of the 1960s, Walter Headley – a man who deployed harsh, even brutal policing tactics in an attempt to bring black residents of his city to heel.
In 1967, as social unrest roiled many American cities, Headley gained a level of national notoriety for declaring “war” on crime in his city – and especially upon young black men, who were subjected to warrantless searches, including strip-searches, and frequently met with outright violence.
“In declaring war on young hoodlums, from 15 to 21, who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign,” he said, “we don’t mind being accused of police brutality. They haven’t seen anything yet.”
His force’s tactics drew anger from civil rights leaders, who accused him of stoking racial resentment of the police even as the crime rate dropped. But Headley’s conscience was apparently impervious to their pleas: according to a UPI article from the time, Headley said the crime rate in the city had dropped thanks to his “letting the word filter down” that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
The summer after he made those remarks, the Republican party held its national convention in Miami, Florida, where Richard Nixon accepted the nomination for the election he would go on to win. While the convention was in progress, riots broke out in Miami’s predominantly black Liberty City area, where resentment at racist policing tactics had finally boiled over.
Headley refused to return from his North Carolina vacation – simply saying of his officers that “they know what to do”. When he died in 1968, his AP obituary called him the “architect of a crime crackdown that sent police dogs and shotgun-toting patrolmen into Miami’s slums in force”.
Ironically, Mr Trump himself says he has considered moving his own Republican convention to Florida, angry that the scheduled host state, North Carolina, is enforcing social distancing rules that would limit the number of people allowed into the arena.
Meanwhile, the violence in Minneapolis goes on.