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Newsletter: Trump, Biden and the civil unrest

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As protests continue across the nation after George Floyd’s death, President Trump and Joe Biden are a study in contrasts in their responses.

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Trump, Biden and the Civil Unrest

President Trump is calling for authorities to “dominate the streets” and saying he would go so far as to send in the military to stop the most widespread civil unrest in years. Joe Biden, while seeking an end to the street violence, is vowing to address “institutional racism” and wants Congress to take immediate action on police reform after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers.

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Regardless of how it plays out with voters in the November election, the clash between Trump and his critics over this singular moment in American history is intensifying.

In a speech at Philadelphia City Hall, Biden bluntly accused the president of being “more interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people,” likened Trump to Southern segregationists of the 1960s and said Trump was exploiting national divisions for political gain and fanning “the flames of hate.”

The Trump campaign accused Biden of making the “crass political calculation that unrest in America is a benefit to his candidacy” and said he had a history of “cozying up to notorious racists in the Senate.”

Biden also criticized Trump for staging a “photo op” in front of a church across the street from the White House on Monday evening after police and National Guard units cleared the way by using force against peaceful protesters. Trump reportedly came up with the idea as a response to criticism on TV that he had been hiding in the White House bunker.

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Trump followed up with another religious-themed event Tuesday, visiting the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. The Catholic Church’s top official there issued a scathing statement about Trump’s visit to the shrine, which is run by the Knights of Columbus, not the archdiocese.

Most Republicans tried to avoid reporters’ questions about Monday’s events, with more than one GOP senator saying, “I’m late for lunch.” But a handful criticized Trump for allowing force to be used in service of what looked like a self-aggrandizing political stunt.

Former President George W. Bush did not mention Trump by name but in a statement appeared to criticize him by implication. “How do we end systemic racism in our society? The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving,” he wrote. “Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place.”

The LAPD’s Get-Tough Tactics

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Protests continued across Southern California on Tuesday, marking the fifth day demonstrators have taken to the streets to demand racial justice. The protests, which centered in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, were largely peaceful in comparison with earlier demonstrations, but confrontations with police persisted.

After days of looting and vandalism and a barrage of criticism for failing to stop it, Los Angeles police have significantly increased their presence in affected neighborhoods and deployed more aggressive tactics to arrest those responsible for burglarizing businesses. Police also have enforced overnight curfews to sweep streets clear in startling, militaristic shows of force. Earlier in the weekend, officers had allowed looting downtown and in the Fairfax area to go unchecked for hours as they squared off with protesters.

Since Friday, nearly 3,000 people in Southern California have been arrested, with the bulk of those in L.A. Booking records reviewed by The Times show the vast majority of those arrested in L.A. County for looting, vandalism and burglary offenses are from here, seeming to refute perceptions of “outside agitators” coming in to fuel unrest.

Police leaders say their more aggressive tactics in recent nights were made possible by the National Guard’s presence and the LAPD’s decision to mobilize its entire force at once. Many residents and merchants have demanded such a move. But protesters have alleged abuses and wrongful detentions.

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Meanwhile, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he has directed the LAPD to “minimize” the use of rubber bullets when dealing with peaceful protesters; evidence shows such weapons can disable, disfigure and even kill. Garcetti also took a knee at a downtown L.A. protest as others chanted, “Defund the police!” but defended Chief Michel Moore after Moore made comments equating looters to the cops who were there when Floyd died in Minneapolis.

More About the Protests

— The Minneapolis Police Department released personnel records for Derek Chauvin, the now-fired officer accused of killing Floyd. The records included little detail about the at least 17 times that Chauvin was the subject of internal affairs investigations, but did include a 2007 incident in which he was reprimanded for pulling a woman out of her car after stopping her for going 10 miles over the speed limit.

— Figures across the political spectrum have been quick to defend their own citizens as peaceful protesters while accusing outsiders of fomenting the unrest. But they have presented little evidence to support their allegations, and like so much in the highly polarized politics of this era, most people see what they want to see.

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— The L.A. Police Department has been collecting evidence throughout the protests in recent days, mostly in the form of video footage that could be used to identify individuals and bring charges against them in the future.

— Police say a man with a sidearm and assault rifle impersonating a National Guard member was arrested on suspicion of illegal possession of an assault weapon near an L.A. City Hall protest.

California’s Coronavirus Cases Rise

Health experts have long warned of a potential second wave of the coronavirus as the economy reopens. But while other states have seen the first wave fade, California continues to see cases rise at a rapid clip. It’s one of only about 17 states where new cases are increasing over the past five days, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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A Times analysis shows that the number of weekly cases in California continues to rise, exceeding more than 17,000 last week for the first time in the pandemic. There were nearly 10,000 alone in L.A. County alone last week, according to the analysis.

L.A. County and the Southland remain the California coronavirus epicenter, but there have been some troubling increases in reported disease in some Bay Area counties, including Marin County, where cases have spiked among essential workers. Further north, Butte County — one of the first allowed to more quickly relax coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses — reported its first death from the disease.

Officials are not sure whether the new cases reflect a larger spike as the economy reopens or the result of simply increasing testing, or perhaps a combination of both.

Meanwhile, the ongoing protests have resulted in several test sites in L.A. being closed or having modified their hours.

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More Top Coronavirus News

— In the science of vaccines, patience is essential. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 100,000 Americans and craters the U.S. economy, Trump has shown little tolerance for science’s deliberate pace. And scientists, with fingers crossed, are falling in line.

— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to drop warnings against choral singing. But scientists say the pandemic isn’t over yet and puts choir members at risk.

— Trump tweeted that he is seeking a new state to host this summer’s Republican National Convention after officials in North Carolina refused to guarantee that the event could be held in Charlotte without restrictions because of ongoing concerns over the coronavirus.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

Bunker Hill was once home to grand Victorian homes and the Northern Hotel. By June 3, 1969, only one resident remained in the condemned and decaying hotel: Bunnie Burns. She’d lived there for more than a decade and for five weeks, refused to leave. Developers were set to demolish the building.

“God,” Bunnie once told a Times reporter, “told me in 1964 never to set foot out of this hotel.” But the day came on June 3. The Times reported that with the help of her longtime friend Burt Wilson, sheriff’s deputies persuaded her to leave. She was escorted to the Astor, another hotel a block from her old home.

Bunnie Burns in the condemned Northern Hotel in 1969
June 3, 1969: Bunnie Burns in her eighth-floor room in the condemned Northern Hotel on Bunker Hill shortly before she left with two sheriff’s deputies, Jerry Brenaeman and Phyllis Finchum, who came to evict her. Burns had been alone in the hotel since April 26.
(Frank Q. Brown / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

USC will bring students back to campus this fall, with online and in-person classes and more spacing in dorms as safety measures amid the coronavirus crisis, President Carol L. Folt has announced.

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— A lawyer for Scott Peterson, convicted in 2004 of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, told the state Supreme Court that he was denied a fair trial because of massive publicity and a slew of legal errors made at trial.

— A state judicial watchdog group has decided that Court of Appeal Justice Jeffrey Johnson should be removed from the bench for sexual misconduct, dishonesty and undignified conduct.

— With school and beach closures, Santa Cruz County met the moment and kept COVID-19 cases and deaths low. But the county must now weigh how quickly it will reopen, especially when tourism fuels its economic engine.

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NATION-WORLD

— In northwest Iowa, nine-term Republican Rep. Steve King, who’s made incendiary comments about immigrants and white supremacy for nearly two decades, lost to a GOP challenger.

— Police officers on the Navajo Nation are fearing for their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s one officer’s story.

— The College Board says that SAT tests may not be available this fall to all students who want to take the exam as the coronavirus crisis has limited the availability of testing sites and efforts to develop an at-home exam have run into roadblocks.

France began rolling out an official coronavirus contact-tracing app aimed at containing fresh outbreaks, becoming the first major European country to deploy the smartphone technology amid simmering debate over privacy fears.

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— The president of the Philippines has suspended his decision to terminate a key defense pact with the U.S., at least temporarily avoiding a major blow to one of America’s oldest alliances in Asia.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— Things will surely look different once television shows are allowed back into production. Will sex scenes return? Can diverse storytelling keep momentum? It’s all up for conversation.

— It’s a market with plenty of competition, but WGN believes its new national newscast can break through.

— It was a sad day when “Schitt’s Creek” said goodbye to its audience after six seasons. But perhaps no one will miss the fish-out-of-water comedy quite as much as series creator and star Dan Levy.

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— A federal judge in Oklahoma has awarded ownership of the zoo made famous in Netflix’s “Tiger King” to Joe Exotic’s chief rival, Carole Baskin.

BUSINESS

— Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told staff at a companywide meeting that he won’t change his mind about a decision to leave up posts shared by Trump last week that many workers believed violated the company’s policies against violent rhetoric.

— Solidarity, or joining the"bandwagon”? Some corporate activism has been met with praise, but for other companies, it’s backfiring amid protests.

— Electric truck maker Nikola wants to become Tesla 2.0. But its path forward may be even riskier as it prepares to go public.

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— As people spend more time at home, interest in gardening has surged, and so did sales at Southern California plant nurseries.

SPORTS

— A tweet from UCLA football coach Chip Kelly about the social unrest that has gripped the nation over the last week sparked a rebuke from two former Bruins who criticized the way Kelly treated black players on his team.

— Columnist LZ Granderson and Chargers coach Anthony Lynn in conversation on protests, criminal justice reform and what the NFL did to Colin Kaepernick: “I’m pissed off and I don’t want to just put out a pretty statement.”

Arrogate, thoroughbred racing’s all-time leading money earner, was euthanized after complications from an undiagnosed ailment made his recovery impossible. He was 7 years old.

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OPINION

Protesting injustice is your right as an American, The Times’ editorial board writes. Watch out for attempts to intimidate those who protest the gap between what we know to be legal and what we know to be just.

— How 10 Southern California religious leaders are preaching to pain amid unrest.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— From “Law & Order” to “Brooklyn 99,” there is almost always a show about police playing somewhere on TV. A critic reflects on what it means to watch these stories over and over. (Vulture)

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Ancient DNA is offering clues to the physical origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (National Geographic)

ONLY IN L.A.

Amid the chaos of downtown L.A. on Friday night, the punk band Vandalize got in the back of a pickup truck and started shredding. It may have resembled a scene from “Mad Max: Fury Road” (sans flame-throwing guitars), but the band had a message: “We agree with why people are mad. It’s gone on for so long, so many lives are out there that don’t get the justice they need,” said one member. “We wanted to have a voice, to show people not to be scared.” They played for three hours before they no longer felt safe and left.

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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