U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, criticized the use of tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters ahead of President Donald Trump’s photo op at a Washington, D.C., church Monday, saying the president came off as “unsympathetic” and “insensitive” to protesters’ rights.
The Maine senator’s remarks followed a chaotic night in the nation’s capital after protesters outside of the White House, who had been peacefully assembled, were met with flash-bang explosions and tear gas shortly before the city’s 7 p.m. curfew.
While protesters and police clashed, Trump delivered a televised address from the Rose Garden in which he called himself an “ally of peaceful protesters” but said he would send the military to states if governors could not keep the protests under control.
After, the president walked through the area where protesters had previously gathered to the nearby St. John’s Church, where he held up a Bible for assembled cameras.
“It was painful to watch peaceful protestors be subjected to tear gas in order for the president to go across the street to a church I believe he’s attended only once,” Collins reportedly told reporters in D.C.
“I thought that the president came across as unsympathetic and as insensitive to the rights of people to peaceful protest,” she added.
Protests have erupted across the country — including Portland, Bangor and several other Maine cities and towns — over the last week, triggered by the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died by asphyxiation after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes.
Collins, who was vocal about her opposition to Trump prior to his election in 2016, has declined on several occasions to say whether she plans to vote for him this year.
The president will visit Maine on Friday to tour the Puritan Medical Products facility in Guilford despite concerns raised by Gov. Janet Mills that his visit could prompt unrest. Collins has said she will be working in Washington, D.C., that day and will not be attending alongside Trump.