D.C. police response to George Floyd protests prompts alarm abroad

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America’s allies and adversaries can’t believe what they are witnessing unfold in Washington, D.C. — a police officer punching an Australian cameraman and using his shield to strike him in the chest, while another officer uses a baton to hit the correspondent as the news crew attempts to flee.

Violent, chaotic scenes like this have been seen elsewhere around the globe — but other countries are reacting with horror as they are not used to seeing them in the heart of the U.S. capital.

After days of nationwide demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, police were using tear gas, projectiles and mounted officers to forcefully scatter peaceful protesters near the White House, all so President Donald Trump could walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo opportunity.

“They don’t care; they are being indiscriminate,” Amelia Brace, the correspondent with Australia’s Channel 7, said breathlessly after running from the scene. “They chased us down that street. They were firing these rubber bullets at everyone. There’s tear gas now and we’re surrounded.”

It was not the only recent clash involving police and the protesters, or journalists. On Friday, CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and the crew working with him were arrested live on air in Minneapolis.

But the sight of officers repeatedly striking a foreign news crew has left many international observers with the sense that this is new, unwelcome territory for the land of the free.

There has been rhetoric and symbolism many regard as authoritarian, with Trump telling police to “dominate the streets” and a Black Hawk military helicopter was dispatched to fly low over the demonstrators in Washington, D.C.

“With all of its shortcomings, the U.S. has stood for many ideals we dearly share,” said Ziya Meral, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank. “Now we are witnessing an America spiraling down into chaos, poor governance, social friction, poor policing and poor leadership.”

“The city on a hill no longer inspires or shines,” added Meral, who specializes in foreign affairs and Middle East politics, in a reference to President Ronald Reagan’s soaring 1989 farewell address.

Ragıp Soylu, a correspondent with the Middle East Eye news outlet, tweeted wryly, “Congrats, America! You have joined the Middle East nations where you can no longer peacefully protest outside the presidential palaces.”

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators next to St. John’s Episcopal Church outside of the White House on Monday.Jose Luis Magana / AFP – Getty Images

Craig McPherson, network director of news and public affairs at Australia’s Seven Network, described the “attack” on his news team as “abhorrent” and “nothing short of wanton thuggery.”

He said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been in touch with his embassy in Washington. NBC News has reached out to Morrison’s office for comment.

On Tuesday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a radio interview that the country has been reviewing the travel advisory for both Washington and Chicago.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Ambassador to Australia attempted to reassure America’s longtime ally that the Trump administration supports freedom of the press.

“Freedom of the press is a right Australians and Americans hold dear. We take treatment of journalists seriously,” Ambassador Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. said in a statement released on twitter. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting journalists and guaranteeing equal justice under law for all.”

Australia is not the only longtime friend of the U.S. to express alarm over the recent events.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared momentarily lost for words when a journalist asked him to comment on Trump’s suggestion that he could deploy military troops across the country, as well as the reports of protesters being tear gassed to make way for a presidential photo opportunity.

After a 20-second pause, Trudeau said that everyone watched in “horror” and “consternation” as to what was happening across the border in the United States.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, told reporters Tuesday that the American authorities should not be “using their capacities in the way,” calling it “an abuse of power” that “has to be denounced.”

A day earlier, the E.U. said that it hopes “all the issues” will be “settled swiftly and in full respect for the rule of law and human rights” — language usually reserved for conflict hot spots such as Yemen, Syria and Ukraine.

And New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was “horrified by what we’ve seen.”

Meanwhile, Washington’s adversaries are not wasting an opportunity to criticize the Trump administration.

In particular, there are some in China highlighting what they say is American hypocrisy: The U.S. calling out Beijing’s alleged attempts to curb freedoms in Hong Kong while seen to be trying to do something similar at home.

“How ruthless these U.S. politicians are,” Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the influential state-run Global Times newspaper, wrote in an opinion piece Tuesday.

“They condemned Hong Kong police simply for the latter’s use of tear gas and water cannon against violent rioters,” he said. “The U.S. unrest just began a few days ago, but police already fired shots at protesters before efforts for peaceful dialogue were even made.”

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday that the disparity showed Trump had been looking at her region “through tinted glasses.”

Mahalia Dobson and Abigail Williams contributed.





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