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Scott says Minn. officers should be prosecuted; region’s Republican governors chafe at Trump’s comments

  • FILE - In this May 24, 2017 file photo, Republican Vermont Gov. Phil Scott speaks to the media in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke, File)

Published: 6/1/2020 9:45:20 PM
Modified: 6/1/2020 9:52:45 PM

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said on Monday that the four Minneapolis police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd should be prosecuted, as he also called for protesters in Vermont to keep the peace, and announced the launch of a racial equity task force to explore policies to combat systemic racism.

Hundreds of protesters turned out in Burlington and Montpelier on Saturday as part of nationwide protests and riots sparked by the killing of Floyd. Scott said the anger was justified, and noted that he had joined the Vermont State Police in condemning the police actions.

“Mr. Floyd’s death, under their watch, under an officer’s knee, is barbaric and totally inexcusable,” Scott said in remarks at the start of his Monday press conference.

“It’s my belief they should all be charged and tried for murder and held fully accountable,” Scott said, “both the three officers who used force (and) the officer who stood by and allowed it to occur.

“In the greatest country in the world,” Scott continued, “no one should stand for this. No one should make excuses for this. And no one should ignore this.”

The governor noted that many Vermonters are joining in the calls for justice. “And I respect those who are doing so,” he said. “I only ask that you do so peacefully and safely, especially considering the public health crisis we’re facing.”

Health Commissioner Mark Levine briefly noted his concern over the size of the protests in Vermont — the governor is increasing the allowable crowd size from 10 to 25 on Monday — while also noting that many participants wore face masks.

Vermont’s public safety commissioner, Michael Schirling, said the incident in Minneapolis “looks like something that if it were happening here we would be investigating and referring for prosecution.”

He added that such action has no place in Vermont’s police force. “If you’re in this job for any other reason than community service with empathy and to provide a requisite level of protection to those who need it, you should be looking elsewhere,” he said. “We’re past the point where this is something we should be discussing.”

Scott was asked about President Donald Trump’s remarks on Monday — after fires burned outside the White House Sunday night — in which he told governors they should “dominate” protesters, adding they would look like “jerks” if rioters were not arrested and jailed “for long periods of time.”

“I don’t think the president’s words are reflective of reality,” Scott said. “I believe that we should be leading by example. And, obviously, there are some situations where you have to use more force. But this wasn’t one of them for us here over the weekend.”

Asked if he thought Trump should address the nation, Scott said: “Well, maybe not with that attitude.”

In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu, also a Republican, told reporters he is committed to learning from Floyd’s death.

“The important conversation — we just want to make sure it does continue, a constructive one, one of positivity. The message does have to be heard, but we’re not going to condone or accept violence by any individuals,” Sununu said. “I’m here to assure the people of New Hampshire that we’re putting in every effort to make sure we’re prepared for whatever scenarios come.”

Sununu said he called protesters ahead of a peaceful march in Manchester on Saturday to tell them he supported their message. On Monday, about 60 people gathered at Hampton Beach for another protest, including several officers who joined in by taking a knee. Participants held signs that read “White Silence is Violence” and “We stand with black lives.”

Asked to respond to Trump’s comments, Sununu said he is focused more on learning from governors and mayors around the country than on Trump’s comments.

“The president’s rhetoric is the president’s rhetoric,” he said. As for Trump’s comments urging local officials to “dominate” the streets, Sununu said, “No, I don’t think anyone needs to be dominated.”

“If anything, here in New Hampshire we’ve shown working together in a very constructive and peaceful way is clearly a pathway to be success,” he said.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker, also a Republican, reacted strongly to Trump’s comments, saying they were unneeded.

“I know I should be surprised when I hear incendiary words like this from him, but I’m not,” Baker said during a news conference on Monday, according to The Boston Globe. “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, and it’s definitely not what we need across this great country of ours either.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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