Meanwhile, former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, himself a retired U.S. Marine Corps general, called Mattis “an honorable man” and chastised Trump for claiming in a tweet that he had fired Mattis, who resigned in December 2018 after Trump insisted on pulling U.S. troops abruptly out of Syria.
“The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation,” Kelly, who served as Trump’s chief of staff from August 2017 to December 2018, said in an interview. “The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused.”
Murkowski and Kelly are the latest Republicans, including former president George W. Bush, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, to either criticize Trump’s approach or more broadly embrace the demonstrators mounting impassioned protests of racial injustice and police brutality across the country.
Those passions showed no signs of dying down Thursday. In Minneapolis, crowds remembered George Floyd, whose death at the hands of the police triggered the current protests. They were joined by a memorial in New York and a remembrance by Democratic senators at the U.S. Capitol.
And in Georgia, a man who helped chase down Ahmaud Arbery, the jogger killed earlier this year, said Arbery’s shooter called Arbery a “f---ing n-----” as he lay dying in the road, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent testified in court.
Despite the criticism from Murkowski and others, there was little sign Thursday of a wholesale defection by Republicans from Trump, as many GOP leaders remained silent on the president’s recent words and actions. Still, the pushback was striking after 3½ years during which Trump’s words and actions have prompted little more than occasional expressions of dismay from his allies.
“When I saw General Mattis’s comments yesterday, I felt like perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally, and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up,” Murkowski said.
Asked if she could still support Trump, the Alaska senator said, “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.” She added, “He is duly elected our president. I will continue to work with him. I will continue to work with this administration.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has been more willing than most in his party to speak out against Trump, called Mattis’s statement “stunning and powerful.”
“He’s an American patriot,” Romney said. “He’s an individual whose judgment I respect, and I think the world of him. If I ever had to choose somebody to be in a foxhole with, it would be with a General Mattis.”
The comments came as Trump responded to Mattis’s criticism by disparaging him in a tweet.
“His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations,” the president wrote. “I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom ‘brought home the bacon’. I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!”
Trump suggested he had fired Mattis, but the former general tendered his resignation as secretary of defense in 2018 as he disagreed with Trump’s decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, numerous U.S. officials have said.
Trump also responded to Murkowski by vowing to travel to Alaska in 2022, when she is up for reelection, to campaign against her. “Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing,” he tweeted. “If you have a pulse, I’m with you!”
The reaction of former military leaders as Trump has spoken of deploying the military to quell looting and other aggressive behavior by protesters has been striking. Kelly and Mattis are both retired four-star Marine generals.
So is John Allen, who criticized Trump on Wednesday in a piece in Foreign Policy magazine for his threats to use the military on protesters and his controversial church photo op on Monday. Allen wrote that Trump’s actions “may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.”
Still, many Republicans stuck by Trump or were silent. On Fox News on Thursday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) suggested Mattis had bought into a false narrative promoted by the media.
“It is so fashionable to blame President Trump for every wrong in America, and he can be a handful — and can he do better? Yes — but the problems we have in America today were not caused by President Trump,” Graham said, adding: “This is just such easy, cheap politics.”
The fireworks played out while Floyd was eulogized as a loving man whose death symbolized an American sickness. Thursday’s memorial services were the start of a four-day period of mourning for Floyd, which will conclude next week with a burial in Floyd’s hometown of Houston.
On Wednesday in Minneapolis, the city where Floyd died, the crowd included senators, mayors, the governor and Hollywood actors. In New York, thousands gathered. In Washington, Democratic senators held a public remembrance.
It was a sign of the remarkable effect Floyd’s death has produced: A national groundswell of protests over police brutality, a largely leaderless movement that has defied tear gas, a pandemic, and looters to persist in calls for change.
But the memorials also focused on the horrific way that life ended. In Minneapolis, with Floyd’s casket at the front of the church, the crowd stayed silent for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time that officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
As the silence lasted and lasted, people in the crowd began to sob. From the back, a man cried out, his voice muffled by a face mask, repeating some of Floyd’s final words: “I can’t breathe!”
That caused many to cry even harder and another voice to call out, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”
When the silence ended, the Rev. Al Sharpton said, “They had enough time,” referring to the police officers involved. “Now what are we going to do with our time?”
The orations were broadcast into the surrounding neighborhood, and among those listening outside was Albert Ettinga, an immigrant from Cameroon who brought his family in from a Minneapolis suburb. They wore T-shirts that said “I cant breathe,” across the front.
“I believe that history has begun in Minneapolis — the world is listening,” he said. “I have kids that were born in this country, I have to really start fighting for them, and hopefully they can rewrite history themselves.”
Sharpton and the Floyd family also announced a mass march on Washington this August to urge Congress to pass a policing equality act.
Georgia, meanwhile, provided a reminder that the protesters’ anger is focused not only on what happened to Floyd, but to any number of African Americans who have suffered at the hands of police — or others.
A judge in that state ruled Thursday that three men would stand trial for murder in the killing of Arbery, an unarmed black man who was shot in February while he was jogging.
A detective said in court that the three men had pursued Arbery in their vehicles, then cornered him. After a struggle, Arbery was shot dead. The men never called 911 during the pursuit, the detective said.
He added that one of them — 34 year-old Travis McMichael — uttered the words “f---ing n-----” as Arbery lay dying in the road.
Although Thursday’s protests were largely peaceful nationwide, there was at least one ugly incident. In Buffalo, video from news station WBFO showed police in riot gear clearing a largely empty plaza. An elderly man approached and officers shoved him backward — causing the man to stumble, fall and hit his head on the concrete. Officers walked past as the man lay bleeding from his head. Two officers involved in the incident have been suspended without pay, Capt. Jeff Rinaldo with the Buffalo Police Department said Thursday night. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz later tweeted that the man was in stable condition at a local hospital.
Still, around the country on Thursday, many of the memorials and demonstrations were peaceful, even hopeful.
In Washington, the sweltering day’s crowds were smaller than they have been recently. Rain was in the forecast, and a bigger march was planned for Saturday. But despite the lighter crowds, crews were installing taller fences around the White House, with new concrete barriers behind them.
At the U.S. Capitol, Senate Democrats gathered for a moment of silence that also lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds — their first in-person gathering since the covid-19 pandemic began.
The senators used a cavernous hall in the now-empty Capitol Visitor Center, standing several feet apart. A handful of Democrats knelt on one or both knees, a symbolic action that started with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick protesting against police brutality, but has taken on double significance after Floyd died as a result of a white officer kneeling on his neck.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Senate Chaplain Barry Black said in an opening prayer.
In Harlem, hundreds of marchers wore suits and ties to honor Floyd. They marched down Fifth Avenue, chanting “We are not to be feared!”
Brandon Murphy, a 29-year-old fashion designer from Harlem, requested that suits and ties be worn. He said it was an attempt to reclaim the narrative of orderly, peaceful protests following nights of unrest.
“In our culture, when we send somebody home, we do it right,” said Stephen Lockett, 30, a resident of Crown Heights. “You put your suit on, you wear a tie and you send that person off. We wanted to respectfully send George Floyd off today.”
Maintenance workers, health-care workers and other Manhattanites waiting in line at a food pantry just off the park at 109th Street applauded the protesters.
At one point, two protesters reenacted the killing of Floyd. One played the part of Floyd, lying face down on the Fifth Avenue asphalt, and the other acted as Chauvin, who dug his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck as Floyd declared, “I can’t breathe.” Residents of the apartments opened their window to clap, bang pots and create a clamor of support for the masses.
In Brooklyn, a memorial service for Floyd turned hostile when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) took the stage and many in the crowd booed the mayor over the city’s use of curfews and aggressive actions by city police.
“De Blasio, go home,” they chanted, followed by “[expletive] your curfew.”
In the days since Floyd’s death, New York has been the scene of large peaceful protests — but also widespread looting and accusations of police brutality. De Blasio has been criticized by Trump for not using enough force, and by many residents for allowing police to use too much.
In his speech, de Blasio said that New York needed to more fully recognize the damage of racism, but he defended police as “doing something very difficult at this moment, and showing a lot of restraint and trying to shepherd us through this moment to a better and more peaceful moment.” He was loudly booed, and only spoke for about two minutes.
Several state and city officials used their time atop the podium to criticize de Blasio.
“This is supposed to be the progressive beacon of this country, and we are failing,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams (D). “We have the wrong president, we have the wrong governor, and we have the wrong mayor.”