Trump stole 'when looting starts, shooting starts' from Miami top cop Walter Headley who incited 1968 riots

With protests breaking out across the country over George Floyd's death, Trump's tweet was flagged for 'glorifying violence'

                            Trump stole 'when looting starts, shooting starts' from Miami top cop Walter Headley who incited 1968 riots
(Getty Images/YouTube)

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day has sparked widespread protests across the country, with the demonstrations turning violent in the 46-year-old's home city, where shops have been looted, streets vandalized, and a police precinct set on fire.

With racial tensions already high following the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, the video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin forcibly kneeling on Floyd's neck even as he pleaded that he could not breathe proved to be the tinder that sparked what can only be described as the equivalent of a wildfire.

Tensions between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to care for are at a razor's edge, and they most certainly weren't helped by Donald Trump's tweet that the protestors could be met with violence and gunfire.

The president had initially struck a tender tone regarding Floyd's death. "I feel very, very badly," he said. "That’s a very shocking sight."

But all caution was thrown out the window following reports that a mob had broken into Minneapolis' 3rd Precinct station, in the southern part of the city where Floyd died, after the department had abandoned it, and had set it ablaze.

In a tweet that has now been labeled by Twitter for violating their rules about "glorifying violence", Trump criticized the lack of leadership from Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey before promising to send in the National Guard to "get the job done right" and threatening to shoot protestors.

"I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis," he wrote. "A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right....."

"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, 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."

The "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" quote, it was reported, was borrowed from former Miami Police Chief Walter Headley, a highly-controversial figure whose stop-and-frisk policies were blamed for repeatedly igniting tensions between the African-American community and law enforcement in the coastal city.

Speaking at a press conference following a holiday weekend in 1967, Headley, who had been chief for 19 years, suggested he did not have any riots because they had made it known it would be met with deadly force.

"We haven't had any serious problems with civil uprising and rooting because I've let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts," he said. "These are my orders: Not three days after, but now."

"This is war," he added. "I mean it, every bit of it."

Those were not the only divisive comments he made during that press conference either. 

"We don't mind being accused of police brutality," Headley also said. "They haven't seen anything yet. Ninety percent of our Negro population is law-abiding and wants to eliminate our crime problem. But 10 percent are young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign."

He claimed the no-holds-barred approach was necessary because civil discourse had proven ineffective. "Community relations and all that sort of thing has failed. We have done everything we could, sending speakers out and meeting with Negro leaders. But it has amounted to nothing."

Two months later, residents in Liberty City were left seething when, as a direct consequence of his policies, two patrolmen strip-searched Robert Owens, a teenager suspected of carrying a concealed knife into a pool hall.

But they didn't stop there. The officers then dangled Owens, dressed only in his shorts and underwear, by his feet over a bridge, a hundred feet above the Miami River.

Just a few months after that incident, Miami erupted in riots with vandals setting cars on fire and ransacking white-owned businesses in Liberty City's commercial district. To control the situation, the Florida National Guard had to be called to the scene and a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed but the damage had been done. By the conflict's end, three people had died at the hands of the police, 18 were wounded, and 222 had been arrested.

In its report on the riots, the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, a federal task force, cited Headley's speech as a prime factor for the discontent that had been brewing and which, ultimately, caused the violence.

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