CAPITAL REGION -- The use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters near the White House Monday evening outraged local Democratic representatives, while Republicans avoided open criticism of President Donald Trump.
The protesters were moved with tear gas and rubber bullets so that Trump could cross the street and have a short video filmed in which he is holding a Bible in front of the historic St. John's Episcopal Church, which had been damaged by fire during protests the night before. The video was then posted to the Trump re-election campaign website.
The Washington Post reported that U.S. Attorney General William Barr personally directed the law enforcement actions.
Just a few minutes earlier, Trump had called for "law and order" and the use of military force to end the demonstrations and looting that have arisen across the country since the police killing last week of a George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man.
Those actions drew strong criticism from two Capital Region members of Congress Antonio Delgado and Paul Tonko, both Democrats.
“When the president of the United States -- who is charged with faithfully executing our laws -- deploys the military domestically, and uses tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters, he is not just attacking these individuals. He is also attacking our very democracy, and our commitment as a nation to ensure that no one person should ever rise above the law and rule with tyrannical authority," said Delgado, D-Rhinebeck. "I condemn this breach of duty to our country with every fiber in my American bones.”
Delgado, a freshman who represents the 19th Congressional District, is the first black person to represent a mostly white rural district in upstate New York, and on Tuesday published an op-ed piece in The Washington Post about his own experiences with prejudice, and urging those protesting to also vote.
"If you want national leaders with the moral courage to lead with compassion and love rather than with cowardly fear-mongering designed to fan the flames of hate and division, then you must vote for those leaders," Delgado wrote.
Tonko, D-Amsterdam, cited the outrage expressed by Washington's Episcopal bishop, the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, who did not know of Trump's planned visit to the church and said of Trump, "Everything he has done is to inflame violence."
"This horrifying attack violated the most fundamental of freedoms enshrined in our Constitution; the right to free speech and peaceful assembly," Tonko, who represents most of the Capital Region, said in a social media post Tuesday afternoon. "I encourage President Trump to open the Bible he held up as a prop outside the church. In it, he would find a verse from Micah 6:8; 'What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?' May we as a nation work toward justice, denounce violence, love kindness and walk humbly, but hurriedly, on the path to creating a more perfect union."
A spokeswoman for North Country U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, offered support for peaceful protest, but no criticisms of Trump or his administration's actions. Stefanik is co-chairperson of Trump's New York re-election campaign, and has been invited to at least two gatherings where Trump met with a small group of his congressional supporters.
"This is an incredibly important moment as the President @realDonaldTrump delivers remarks to the American people and walks to St. John’s Church," Stefanik wrote on Twitter as events were unfolding. "An extraordinary church where every President has prayed including Abraham Lincoln during the scourge and tragedy of the Civil War."
Stefanik supports the constitutional right to peaceful protest, said spokeswoman Madison Anderson.
"She does not support the rioting, anarchy, looting, destruction of private property, and violence that has already cost so many innocent lives across the country," Anderson said. "She agrees with George Floyd's family that this destruction debases the memory of George Floyd. Congresswoman Stefanik supports the rule of law and the service of the National Guard sent to communities that have been burnt and destroyed across the nation to ensure the safety and security of all.”