As senators reconvened at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, they were greeted by peaceful protesters, a vivid reminder of the civil unrest that is taking place in many areas across the nation.
“The protesters have a right to protest,” said Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. “Clearly what happened in this murder of George Floyd, something has to change and those protest voices need to be heard and acted upon.”
But Gardner drew the line at the violence that has accompanied some protests, and said law enforcement has to be able to “stop the carnage that is happening.”
Hours earlier, President Donald Trump reportedly told the nation’s governors that they needed to use law enforcement officers and national guard troops to “dominate” and use force to prevent further violent protests.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who deployed about 100 members of the Colorado National Guard to Denver on Saturday, was on that call. Denver has been the site of peaceful protests, as well as violent ones, since Thursday.
Polis did not directly comment on the call with the president but did release a statement through his press secretary afterward.
“Our country is calling out for leadership during this challenging time,” Polis spokesperson Conor Cahill said in a statement. “In Colorado, it appears the disruptors that caused damage were not necessarily the same peaceful protesters who made their voices heard throughout the weekend. A small group of individuals who were more focused on causing unrest and damage should not overshadow the overwhelming number of people utilizing their right to free speech advocating for justice. It is the hope of Governor Polis and of all Coloradans that any future demonstrations remain peaceful, and considering the public health crisis, with successful social distancing.”
While Gardner said he did not hear Trump’s comments, fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet was not surprised by the president’s tone.
“It’s disgraceful we have somebody in the White House who thinks the answer to this is more violence and more division,” the Democratic senator said. “We need more enlightened leadership than that.”
Bennet said what was needed wasn’t more force, but a real response to “the institutional racism that exists in this country at every level of our society.”
Gardner said all Americans can and should do better.
“If I walked into that store with a counterfeit $20 bill, I’d be walking around, I’d be alive today,” he said. “George Floyd is not. We have to recognize that, we have to change it and we have to make sure this country does better going forward.”
Rep. Joe Neguse, the first African American elected to Congress from Colorado, also weighed in on the violence that has wracked the country.
“I’ve struggled to find the right words to respond to the events that have unfolded since the murder of George Floyd,” Neguse said in a statement. “As a young African American man, I understand viscerally the fear and anguish so many are experiencing, and the need for systemic and transformational reforms in our criminal justice system.”
The freshman Democrat sits on the House Judiciary Committee and is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He said he will work with his colleagues to enact reforms.
“We must find a way to heal the deep divisions in our country before they tear us apart, and to restore calm, peace, and unity across our nation,” his statement continued.
On Monday evening, shortly before a 5 p.m. protest kicked off in downtown Denver, Trump took to the Rose Garden to say he had mobilized military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the looting and rioting in Washington, D.C., and threatened he would send U.S. military troops into states that “(refuse) to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents.”
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misstated when protests in Denver began. The first demonstration was Thursday, not Friday.