Politics|Asked About Black Americans Killed by Police, Trump Says, ‘So Are White People’
President Trump, whose re-election prospects have dimmed as Americans question his handling of the coronavirus outbreak and race relations, on Tuesday stoked racial grievances yet again with a series of startling remarks about the Confederate flag, victims of police violence and a St. Louis couple who pointed guns at protesters peacefully marching by their house.
Mr. Trump added to his long record of racially inflammatory comments during an interview with CBS News, in which he brushed off a question about Black people killed by police officers, saying that white people are killed in greater numbers.
Mr. Trump reacted angrily when asked about the issue, which has led to nationwide protests calling for major law enforcement changes.
“Why are African-Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?” the interviewer, Catherine Herridge of CBS News, asked the president.
“What a terrible question to ask,” Mr. Trump responded. “So are white people. More white people, by the way.”
Statistics show that while more white Americans are killed by the police over all, people of color are killed at higher rates. A federal study that examined lethal force used by the police from 2009 to 2012 found that a majority of victims were white, but the victims were disproportionately Black. Black people had a fatality rate at the hands of police officers that was 2.8 times as high as that of white people.
In a separate interview published on Tuesday with the conservative website Townhall.com, Mr. Trump falsely claimed that a white couple in St. Louis who confronted peaceful marchers outside their home with guns had been on the verge of being beaten and having their home burned down.
“They were going to be beat up badly, and the house was going to be totally ransacked and probably burned down,” Mr. Trump said.
Video of the incident, which became a flash point in the national debate over racial inequality, showed that the protesters at no point physically threatened the couple.
The president’s remarks were the latest example of his refusal to acknowledge the racial discrimination that even many in his own party have said must be addressed. But Mr. Trump, who recently retweeted a video of a supporter shouting “white power” and said he would oppose a bipartisan effort in Congress to remove Confederate names from military bases, has displayed no intention of trying to bridge the country’s racial divide.
Asked in the CBS interview how he felt about the use of the Confederate battle flag in public settings like NASCAR races, the president said: “With me, it’s freedom of speech. Very simple. Like it, don’t like it, it’s freedom of speech.”
Asked if he understood that the flag was a painful symbol to many people as a reminder of slavery, Mr. Trump said, “Well, people love it and I don’t view — I know people that like the Confederate flag and they’re not thinking about slavery.” He added, “I just think it’s freedom of speech, whether it’s Confederate flags or Black Lives Matter or anything else you want to talk about.”
Four months into a pandemic that has cost more than 136,000 lives in the United States, and nearly two months after the killing of a Black man by a Minneapolis police officer sparked a nationwide outpouring of anger over racial injustice, Mr. Trump still only rarely mentions the pain that both crises have caused many Americans. Rather than offer sympathy and compassion, he provokes and attacks.
His comments in the interviews on Tuesday — a day when Florida again surpassed its previous record for coronavirus deaths while Republicans pressed ahead with plans to hold their convention in Jacksonville next month — came as he used a news conference that was ostensibly for announcing new legislation targeting China to thrash his opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“His agenda is the most extreme platform of any major party nominee, by far, in American history,” Mr. Trump said, calling Mr. Biden’s career a “gift to the Chinese Communist Party.”
Over the course of his short time as a national political figure, Mr. Trump has used race, religion and ethnicity to divide Americans. Five years ago, he announced that he was seeking the presidency by denigrating Mexican migrants as rapists and murderers. As a candidate he then called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
He initially refused to disavow the endorsement of a former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke. He has insulted the intelligence of Black professional athletes and questioned their patriotism.
Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, he has not backed down but doubled down on making racially divisive and sometimes overtly racist comments. He has called the coronavirus the “Kung flu.” He falsely accused a Black NASCAR driver of perpetrating a hoax for reporting that a noose had been left near his car and criticized the racing franchise for prohibiting Confederate flags at its events — while also claiming to have done “more for Black Americans, in fact, than any President in U.S. history,” with the “possible exception” of Abraham Lincoln.