‘Are you kidding me?’: DeSantis sounds off on George Floyd’s death

DeSantis also said he’s sending National Guard troops to Washington, although the mayor did not ask for them.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during news conference last month.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during news conference last month. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published June 3, 2020|Updated June 4, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday said he was “absolutely appalled” by the death of George Floyd, the man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes.

DeSantis said he immediately asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which he oversees, whether police in Florida are allowed to use such a tactic. They’re not, he said.

“When I saw the video of that cop murdering George Floyd, I was just absolutely appalled by what I saw,” DeSantis said. “But I immediately asked folks at FDLE and others, ‘How in the hell could you get away with even doing that tactic?’ And sure enough, (in the) State of Florida, you do not put knee on a neck like that. That is not good training.”

He added, “I think what made this even more egregious, the guy was handcuffed. It’s like, Are you kidding me?”

On Monday, video surfaced showing a Sarasota police officer kneeling on a man’s neck during a May arrest, prompting Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino to place the officer on administrative leave.

DeSantis also noted that the officer, Derek Chauvin, had a number of complaints against him. Chauvin has since been fired and charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

“Was there a breakdown in that police department from not holding him accountable?” DeSantis wondered.

Although it’s uncommon for Republicans to publicly question law enforcement, Floyd’s death is different. Many Republicans have questioned it, including radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

In his first public appearance since Floyd’s death sparked outrage across Florida and the nation, DeSantis opened the news conference by condemning people who have caused “rioting, looting or violence.” His comments on Floyd’s death came after he was asked by reporters.

Speaking at Universal Orlando Resort, which opens to the public on Friday, DeSantis highlighted the number of people arrested at protests over the last few days, noting that one person was arrested for possessing a backpack full of mortars and another was arrested for trying to stab officers with a syringe.

“Florida won’t tolerate rioting, looting or violence,” he said.

He also thanked peaceful protesters who tried to stop others from inciting violence.

“I want to encourage everyone to be peaceful," DeSantis said. "That’s really the name of the game.”

DeSantis was on a conference call Monday with other governors and President Donald Trump. During that call, Trump urged the state leaders to "dominate” and arrest disorderly protesters during a conference call. While his spokeswoman, Helen Aguirre Ferré, confirmed for the Times/Herald that DeSantis took part in the call, she declined to comment on the call’s contents or the governor’s reaction to Trump’s comments. During Wednesday’s news conference, DeSantis didn’t mention the call with Trump, a key political ally.

Related: DeSantis quiet during Florida's weekend of protests

DeSantis said he was also sending 500 members of the Florida National Guard to Washington, D.C. to assist with protests there.

However, Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, said Wednesday that she has not requested National Guard assistance from other states.

“I have the authority to request [National] Guard from other states,” Bowser said Wednesday. “I have not requested Guard from any state.”

A Florida National Guard spokesperson said the 500 soldiers from Florida are from the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Pinellas Park. The soldiers are traveling by military airlift on Wednesday and will report to the District of Columbia National Guard’s task force in Washington.

“We don’t have an exact time frame for their deployment, but Florida is committed to supporting this request for as long as our help is needed,” Florida National Guard spokesperson Will Manley said in an email.

In addition to Florida, other states have already sent troops to Washington D.C., including Utah, Maryland, New Jersey, Indiana, South Carolina and Tennessee. Federal officials, including the U.S. Department of Justice, are controlling additional troops in the nation’s capital. Bowser said she has requested assistance from the D.C. National Guard, but not other states.

"We are examining every legal question about the president's authority to send troops, even National Guard, to the District of Columbia and if he has to make any other legal steps to do that," Bowser said. "We are directing the federal assets that we've requested and we are not directing any federal assets beyond that."

Some governors have declined to send their National Guard troops to the District of Columbia after Secretary of Defense Mark Esper requested their presence.

“I am not going to send our men and women in uniform of our very proud National Guard to Washington for a photo op,” Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday.

Northam said the request was not made by Bowser, and that Trump’s contentious call with governors on Monday, when the president said state leaders would look like “jerks” if they did not toughen their response to protests, played a part in his decision not to send troops. It’s unclear if the same call influenced DeSantis to do the opposite.

“When this request came in, we quickly learned it had not been made at Mayor Bowser’s request or coordinated with her, and we have heightened concern based on the President’s remarks that the Administration is looking to use the Guard to escalate — not de-escalate — the situation,” Northam chief of staff Clark Mercer said in a statement.