Governor Charlie Baker did not hold back Monday afternoon as he addressed comments President Trump has made about protests that have swept the nation, including Boston, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I heard what the president said today about dominating and fighting,” said Baker, who is a Republican. “I know I should be surprised when I hear incendiary words like this from him, but I’m not. At so many times during these last several weeks, when the country needed compassion and leadership the most, it simply was nowhere to be found. Instead, we got bitterness, combativeness, and self-interest. That’s not what we need in Boston, it’s not what we need right now in Massachusetts,” he said, as he appeared to choke up, “and it’s definitely not what we need across this great country of ours either.”
Baker’s comments came after Trump on Monday derided the nation’s governors as “weak” and demanded tougher crackdowns on protesters. In a video conference, Trump said they “have to get much tougher”: “Most of you are weak,” Trump said. “You have to arrest people.”
“You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again,” said Trump, according to the Associated Press. “We’re doing it in Washington, D.C. We’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before.”
The president also told the governors they were making themselves “look like fools” for not calling up more of the National Guard as a show of force on city streets, according to the AP.
“You have to dominate,” Trump told the governors, according to The New York Times. “Someone throwing a rock is like shooting a gun. You have to do retribution.”
Trump also reportedly said Minnesota had become “a laughingstock all over the world.” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, told reporters after the call that he thanked the president for his support, but disagreed with his assessment, the Times reported.
“I said, ‘no one is laughing here,’ ” Walz said, according to the Times. “We’re in pain; we’re crying. We saw a man lose his life.”
During the call, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said “we have to call for calm,” according to the Times. “The rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House is making it worse.”
“I don’t like your rhetoric much either,” Trump replied, according to a Politico report. “I think you could’ve done a much better job, frankly. But that’s okay. And you know, we don’t agree with each other.”
On Monday night, Trump threatened to deploy the United States military unless states quickly halted the violent protests.
“Today I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers, that we dominate the streets,” Trump said in an address from the White House. “Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If a city or state refuses to take the actions to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Trump made the comments Monday after protests swept the nation for another night following the death of Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.
In downtown Boston, thousands of people took part in a largely peaceful demonstration Sunday evening before violent skirmishes began breaking out around the city, with some people shattering the glass windows of storefronts and stealing merchandise.
Baker, during his news conference on Monday, called Floyd’s death a “horrible tragedy.”
“The injustices that Black Americans experience every day and their devastating cumulative effect don’t care about state boundaries,” he said. “We all have an obligation to see and address these issues.”
However, Baker also had a message to those who partook in violent and illegal activities on Sunday night.
“To the criminals and cowards that tarnished that night’s peaceful protest, I expect your day in court will come soon,” he said.
He also noted that the “mood and the attitude and ultimately the behavior of the people who were involved in all those marches and all those demonstrations were clearly different than the moods of the people who engaged in the looting and the bottle-throwing and the brick-throwing and all the rest.”
During Monday’s press conference, a reporter asked, “The president’s comments and tweets that you referred to are nothing new; he’s been doing that all along. Do you regret not speaking out about that earlier?”
“I think my comments today kind of speak for themselves,” Baker replied. “I’ve spoken out more than once, and probably more than many of my colleagues.”
Indeed, this isn’t the first time Baker has sharply criticized Trump. On April 21, the governor was asked about Trump’s claim that he would sign an executive order “to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States” because of the coronavirus.
“I’m opposed to the decision that the president made,” Baker said then. “I’m opposed to the order. It doesn’t make any sense and I don’t think it makes us any safer.”
At the time, it was an unusually sharp rebuke from the governor, known for his diplomatic demeanor. Baker has also deflected other questions about Trump recently.
“We’re a lot more interested in the work than in the noise,” Baker said when asked at an April 14 press conference about Trump’s comment that some governors were staging a “mutiny” by forming pacts to coordinate reopening.
Across the border in Rhode Island, Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo said Trump “urged us to be tough, and the word he continued to use over and over again was ‘domination.’ ”
However, that’s not the solution, she said. “My reaction is all of us need to do whatever we can to ratchet down the violence and ratchet up listening and sincerity,” she said.
Spasms of violence have been cropping up in major cities across America following Floyd’s death, including in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Several places have enacted curfews aimed at curtailing the outbreaks.
The Justice Department has vowed to treat the “violence instigated and carried out by antifa & other similar groups” as domestic terrorism. Although there isn’t a specific federal domestic terrorism statute, prosecutors could charge other offenses and seek enhanced sentencing.
The FBI has already started questioning rioters who were arrested in several cities to determine whether they committed any federal crimes, according to the AP, citing a senior Justice Department official. It is a federal crime to cross state lines to participate in violent riots.
Amanda Milkovits of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press and The New York Times was used in this report.