US civil rights leader accuses Trump of 'wickedness'

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Speaking at memorial service for George Floyd, civil rights leader criticises US President's response to anti-racism protests

HOUSTON: A civil rights leader at Tuesday's funeral for Mr George Floyd, whose death in custody sparked worldwide protests, accused US President Donald Trump of "wickedness" for cracking down on demonstrators instead of police brutality.

Reverend Al Sharpton also told the service in Houston that Mr Trump's efforts to stop the protests with force, including the use of rubber bullets, rather than seeking justice for abused citizens suggests Mr Trump is signalling to police officers that they are above the law.

"We are fighting wickedness in high places," Mr Sharpton thundered, uttering the phrase repeatedly as he accused Mr Trump of "scheming on how you can spin the story rather than how you can achieve justice".

"You call in your Cabinet, trying to figure out how it's going to affect your vote, rather than how it's going to affect our lives," the renowned religious and rights advocate said.

"You take rubber bullets and tear gas to clear out peaceful protesters and then take a Bible and walk in front of a church and use a church as a prop? Wickedness in high places," Mr Sharpton said.

As funeral attendees applauded, Mr Sharpton berated the president for failing to directly address how a Minneapolis policeman pressed his knee against a handcuffed Mr Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds until well after Mr Floyd's body went limp.

Mr Trump did phone the Floyd family to offer his sympathy, and he has described the 46-year-old's death as a "terrible thing" that "should never have happened."

But the President waded into more controversy hours before the funeral on Tuesday when he tweeted a conspiracy theory about a 75-year-old protester who was shoved by police and critically injured during a protest.


Citing a report by pro-Trump channel One America News Network, Mr Trump wrote that the protester, Mr Martin Gugino, could be a member of the anti-fascist movement antifa, which the president and other Republicans have blamed for violence at the protests.

Mr Trump offered no evidence of links between Mr Gugino and the movement.

"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. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?" Mr Trump tweeted.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was "disgusted" by Mr Trump's tweet and urged the president to apologise.

In a separate development, American reference dictionary Merriam-Webster said it will change one of its definitions of the word racism at the suggestion of a young black woman, who wanted it to better reflect the oppression of people of colour.

Ms Kennedy Mitchum, a recent graduate of Drake University in Iowa, contacted Merriam-Webster, which has published its dictionaries since 1847, to propose updating the term.

"I basically told them that they need to include that there's a systematic oppression upon a group of people. It's not just, 'Oh, I don't like someone'."

Merriam-Webster's editorial manager Peter Sokolowski said the definition would be modified after Ms Mitchum's request. - AFP, REUTERS