The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington has said she is “outraged” after police officers used tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters from her churchyard for Donald Trump to stage a photo-op outside holding a Bible.
The US president walked from the White House to St John’s Episcopal Church, and holding aloft the religious text, he said: “We have the greatest country in the world. We’re going to keep it safe.”
It followed days of nationwide protests – some of which have turned violent and have involved rioting, looting and police officers being shot at – over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Reverend Mariann Budde, whose diocese St. John’s belongs to, said she was given no warning about Mr Trump’s visit on Monday, and no permission was sought for the photo opportunity.
The bishop told MSNBC the president was “preceded by a violent clearing of non-violent protesters”.
“He was using our church as the backdrop and the Bible as a prop in ways that I found to be deeply offensive”.
Protesters hit with tear gas to clear path for Donald Trump’s photo-op
In a separate interview she said the president used the opportunity to share “a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for”.
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“He sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the churchyard. I am outraged,” she told CNN.
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“The president did not pray when he came to St John’s… nor did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now, and in particular, that of the people of colour in our nation, who wonder if anyone ever – anyone in public power will ever acknowledge their sacred words. And who are rightfully demanding an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country.
“And I just want the world to know, that we in the diocese of Washington… we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this president.”
She added: “We align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others.
“And I just can’t believe what my eyes have seen.”
She said she has been fielding phone calls, messages and emails from people across the country angered by the president’s actions.
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Known as The Church of the Presidents, St John’s suffered fire damage in a protest on Sunday.
The bishop said in a statement “our suffering was minimal”. “We can replace the furnishings of a nursery,” she said, adding: “We can’t bring a man’s life back.”
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, issued his own statement accusing Mr Trump of using St John’s and the Bible for “partisan political purposes”.
Mr Floyd, aged 46, died after a police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes during his arrest for allegedly using a fake $20 note in a shop, despite him warning that he could not breathe.
Earlier, the family of Mr Floyd urged people to go out and vote rather than turn to violence over his death.
Demanding justice for his brother, Terrence Floyd told a crowd at a makeshift memorial in Minneapolis that the demonstrations of the past few days across America “will not bring my brother back”.
And he pleaded: “Stop thinking your voice don’t matter, and vote.”
The plea came just hours before a medical examiner’s report classified Mr Floyd’s death as homicide, saying: “Decedent experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officers.”
Its release followed a post-mortem commissioned by the family, which found that Mr Floyd died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression.
While held down by Derek Chauvin, who has been sacked and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter over the incident, Mr Floyd repeatedly told the police officer: “I can’t breathe.”