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Tear gas in the Rose Garden

Jun 5, 2020 • 16m 31s

As protests against police violence and inequality continue in the United States, Scott Morrison had a private phone call with Donald Trump.

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Tear gas in the Rose Garden

239 • Jun 5, 2020

Tear gas in the Rose Garden

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

As protests against police violence and inequality continue in the United States, Scott Morrison had a private phone call with Donald Trump.

Accounts of the conversation differ, but in subsequent interviews the prime minister refused to engage with Australia’s own record on black deaths in custody.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on Morrison, Trump and the George Floyd protests.

**

RUBY:

Paul, on Tuesday, Scott Morrison had a phone call with the U.S. president, Donald Trump - just before that call, Trump had a photo op in Washington - I'm wondering if you can tell me about it.

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, this was one of Donald Trump's more provocative escapades. It came as escalating protests around America continued into their eighth day after the killing by police of another unarmed black man, George Floyd.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Moments ago, the chief of police in Minneapolis announced that he had fired four police officers involved in the arrest in subsequent death of a black man in police custody, George Floyd…

Archival tape -- reporter:

Protests in Mr. Floyd’s name have grown hundreds marching through the streets of Minneapolis, calling for justice.

Archival tape -- reporter:

The frustration at the lack of accountability around police brutality grows all across the United States...

PAUL:

On the orders of Trump's attorney general, Federal police undertook to push protesters away from the front of the White House. They fired tear gas into the crowd, used batons and rubber bullets to clear a path so the president could walk from his residence to a nearby church.

Archival tape -- reporter:

… to clear what has been an entirely peaceful protest. Not 90 percent, not 99 percent, but 100 percent peaceful protests here today…

PAUL:

The purpose was to facilitate an obvious and, I'd have to say, inflammatory campaign stunt. Police rammed their riot shields into the demonstrators and media crews...

Archival tape -- protester:

Oh my gosh.

Archival tape -- protester:

That’s a photographer.

Archival tape -- protester:

That’s a member of the press.

PAUL:

And Ruby, this is the tenor of Trump's belligerent defiance. Flanked by his daughter and son in law and key members of his administration, Trump walked across Lafayette Square through the security provided by a menacing honour guard of automatic weapons and steel batons.

Archival tape -- reporter:

The reason peaceful protesters were forcibly moved became more clear: to make way for the president to stage a photo op.

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

Now I'm going to pay my respects to a very, very special place. Thank you very much.

PAUL:

Trump then stood in front of the boarded up St. John's Episcopal Church, which had been firebombed the night before, and he held a Bible up for the cameras. And Ruby, a rather cheeky reporter, yelled, “Is that your Bible?” For once, his answer didn't need fact checking. Trump replied, “It's a Bible”.

The Episcopal Bishop of Washington, Marianne Budd, was outraged. She condemned the president and said the Bible declares that God is love, when everything he’s said and done is to inflame violence.

Archival tape -- Marianne Budd:

And I just want the world to know that we and the Diocese of Washington, following Jesus and his way of life, do not… we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this president…

PAUL:

The Catholic archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory, an African-American, had a similar view. He condemned the president's second visit to a religious place, a shrine honouring Pope John Paul the second. Wilton said it was baffling and reprehensible. He hit out at the shrine or any Catholic facility that would allow itself to be a grievously misused and manipulated, he said.

RUBY:

And this happened just before Trump's phone call with Scott Morrison...

PAUL:

That's right. It was a pretty busy morning for the president. More than that, an Australian journalist and a cameraman were amongst those brutalised by police ahead of the photo op. Amelia Brace from Network Seven was truncheoned in the back and shot with a rubber bullet.

Archival tape -- Amelia Brace:

.... my cameraman has been hit. We've also seen tear gas being used - here we go, they’re moving through again, this is exactly what it looks like, exactly what it looks like...

Archival tape -- reporter:

Oh, whoah.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Amelia, can you hear us?

PAUL:

Morrison says he was unaware of it before the call, though questions are now being asked about that. But he has since offered support to the network to lodge a formal complaint. He's also asked the Australian embassy in Washington to provide advice on registering Australia's strong concerns with the appropriate authorities.

RUBY:

Do we know what was discussed on the phone call between Morrison and Trump?

PAUL:

Well, we've got two version of events, according to the White House's version. The US protests weren’t mentioned in the conversation between Morrison and the president. The Australian version says both leaders discussed the distressing situation in the United States and efforts to ensure it would be resolved peacefully.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Paul, we're talking about the protest movement that's breaking out in the US, and conflicting accounts of this phone call that Scott Morrison had with the US president this week. Can you tell me more about that?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, we don't know what was said on the call. I certainly don't - I wasn’t a fly on the wall. But Morrison's people maintain that both leaders hoped the crisis could be settled peacefully. What that means for Donald Trump is by no means clear. Now, if Morrison was aware of the president's total domination call given a few hours before they spoke, he'd have no reason to be impressed.

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

I am mobilising all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting…

PAUL:

The speech in the White House Rose Garden, punctured by the sound of flash bangs and exploding tear gas nearby, promised a more brutal response.

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

Today, I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets...

PAUL:

Trump said he would dominate the streets and called on governors to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers to do so. He said if they failed, he would fix the problem.

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.

PAUL:

The prospect of an American president sooling the might of the United States military on its own citizens is frankly horrifying.

Perhaps explaining the braggadocio are the latest poll figures in the United States showing the Democrat presidential candidate - well, obvious candidate - Joe Biden, has a 10 point lead over Trump among registered voters.

But it looks the main reason for Trump's phone call to Morrison was to invite the Australian prime minister to participate in the G7 summit of world leaders in September in the United States. The invitation would normally be a feather in the cap of an Australian prime minister. But now it drags us into the Trump quagmire, and only complicates Australia's interests at home and abroad. I think Morrison realises this Ruby, and in the briefing note from his office, he insisted it was in Australia's interests that he go. And on balance, I think you'd have to agree.

RUBY:

Paul, Scott Morrison has addressed the American protests directly. Can you tell me about what he’s said?

PAUL:

Well, the prime minister went on to 2GB this weekend. He was pretty dismissive of the protests and said they wouldn't achieve anything.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

There's been you know, there's not always rubbish on social media. I saw a good meme on the weekend, Martin Luther King, you know, didn't change anything by burning anything down and looting any shops. And so as upsetting and terrible is the murder that took place, and it is shocking. It's...that also just made me cringe. And I just think to myself...

PAUL:

Morrison said - more or less - that the protests are an American problem and we shouldn't import the sentiments.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

… Yeah there's no need to import things from happening in other countries to Australia. I mean, Australia is a fair country...

RUBY:

But it's not true to say that this is just an American problem, is it?

PAUL:

No, of course not, Ruby. At a Sydney Black Lives Matter protest earlier in the week, people chanted, “I can't breathe”, the last words of George Floyd.

Archival tape -- protesters:

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

PAUL:

But they're also the last words of 26 year old David Dungay Jr, an indigenous man who died in Long Bay jail in 2015 as wardens restrained him. He repeated the phrase 10 times. No one was charged after that death.

Archival tape -- reporter:

The report says that in the CCTV recordings, David Dungay can be heard telling prison guards that he can't breathe. One corrections officer tells him, if you can talk, you can breathe.

PAUL:

The Australian protests coincided with the brutal arrest of an Aboriginal teenager in Surry Hills. Images of the boy's legs being kicked out from beneath him and his face being driven into the ground turned up on the evening news. And they've gone viral on social media.

Archival tape -- reporter:

A policeman then orders him to turn around and places the boy's hands behind his back. He then kicks the teenager's face out from underneath him, causing the 16 year old to fall to the ground face first. Two other officers then help hold the boy down...

PAUL:

A white policeman was placed on restricted duties, and an internal investigation has been launched, but the New South Wales police chief seemingly dismissing it as the policeman having a bad day, I've got to say, isn't reassuring.

Archival tape -- NSW police chief:

If there certainly is complaints sustained against him, you would have to say he's had a bad day. And I'm sure most of the community wouldn't want to see someone who's made a mistake sacked after making such a commitment to the community...

PAUL:

Australia has a terrible and ongoing record of black deaths in custody. There's an appalling gap in life expectancy between indigenous Australians and the rest of the country; there is huge inequality here and it's simply not credible to pretend otherwise.

RUBY:

Paul, at the top of the show, we were talking about Trump and the way that he's using faith in his campaigning. As you look at what's happening in America, what do you make of that?

PAUL:

Well, in terms of Trump's response and his campaigning, you know, five months out from the presidential election, you'd have to say that his response is transparent and a cynical manipulation. But it is an appeal to his base vote. That vote is made up of evangelical Christians and ultraconservative Catholics, all united around the abortion issue and very conservative sexual mores. No wonder the two mainstream church leaders in Washington spoke out so loudly.

And Ruby, it's instructive to note the Catholic archbishop was appointed by Pope Francis and is no fan of the culture war reactionary Catholics who run the Pope John Paul the Second shrine in Washington. And I think that gives you a clue to why Trump went there.

RUBY:

And what about the protest movement? More specifically, what do you think as you look at that in the US?

PAUL:

Well, there's no doubt that the pent up anger at the ingrained inequality in the United States, particularly the systemic racism that still exists, doesn't take much for a pressure valve to release it. And yet another death of an African-American male unarmed at the hands of white police is the sort of trigger for this explosion.

There's no doubt the historical legacy of slavery is part of it. There's also no doubt that there’s the significant white minority, threatened by the changing demographics in the United States. But unfortunately, it's the sort of situation that demands a leader who has respect authority and who is a uniter, not a divider. And Trump's whole modus operandi as a politician is to divide and conquer. So he believes that if he can leverage this, can make the divisions even sharper and starker, he'll garner enough votes to hang onto the presidency.

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thank you.

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**

RUBY:

Also in the news -

The Minnesota Attorney-General has upgraded the charges facing the police officer involved in the killing of George Floyd.

Derek Chauvin - who was sacked after the incident - is now charged with second-degree unintentional murder, instead of third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The three other officers who were present - and were also sacked - have now been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Meanwhile, New York police have moved against peaceful protesters who defied city-wide curfews, with one police chief saying there would be "no more tolerance" for crowds who ignored the measures
**
And back home -

The Federal Government has announced 25,000 dollar grants for people who want to build or substantially renovate their homes, in an effort to boost demand in the construction sector.

To be eligible recipients will need to spend at least 150,000 dollars of their own money.

**

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper.

It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning.

Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app.

I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

As protests against police violence and inequality continue in the United States, Scott Morrison had a private phone call with Donald Trump. Accounts of the conversation differ, but in subsequent interviews the prime minister refused to engage with Australia’s own record on black deaths in custody.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app. I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

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239: Tear gas in the Rose Garden