Donald Trump defended police officers caught pushing an elderly man to the ground amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, claiming without evidence the may have been an “Antifa provocateur”.
The president tweeted on Tuesday about the video footage from protests last week in Buffalo, New York: “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an Antifa provocateur. 75-year-old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment.”
He then tagged the conservative news outlet, One America News, and added: “I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”
Mr Gugino fell to the ground after approaching officers who pushed him in Niagara Square on Thursday. He can be seen falling backwards to the floor in the video, his head hitting the ground and bleeding as the officers continue walking past him.
Friends of Mr Gugino have defended him from attacks as he remained in a “serious but stable” condition in hospital, according to his attorney. Terrence Bisson, who volunteered with Mr Gugino at the Western New York Peace Centre for nearly a decade, described him as “funny and gentle” and told a local news outlet: “He’s also an older white man in America and knows the privileges that come along with that.”
Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski, the two officers involved in the confrontation, have both been charged with second-degree assault and released without bail.
Local officials have said the officers were engaging in misconduct as they pushed the demonstrator to the ground while attempting to clear the square.
The officers “crossed a line”, district attorney John Flynn said at a press conference on Saturday, while New York governor Andrew Cuomo described the incident as “horrendous”.
“I think there was criminal liability from what I saw on the video,” Mr Cuomo said. “There’s no tolerance for delaying justice in society anymore.“
He added: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Mr Trump’s defence for the officers involved in the incident come as the president continued encouraging a nationwide crackdown on the weeks of demonstrations that erupted across the country and throughout the world over the death of George Floyd. The unarmed black man was seen in footage pleading for his life as a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, even after he seemingly became unresponsive.
The president has called on state governors to “put down” the protests by calling in the National Guard and arresting demonstrators.
In a conference call with governors earlier this month, the president described the protests as a “movement”, NPR reported. He told the governors: “If you don’t put it down, it will get worse and worse. The only time it’s successful is when you’re weak and most of you are weak.”
Kelly Zarcone, attorney to Mr Gugino, said he has “acknowledged and sincerely appreciates the tremendous outpouring of support he has received nationwide” after the footage went viral.
The attorney added: “Martin and his family continue to request privacy as they focus on Martin’s health and recovery.”
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