President Donald Trump celebrated a better-than-expected unemployment report on Friday by asserting that “it’s a great day” for George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man whose death in police custody has spurred nationwide protests and reinvigorated calls for racial justice.
The president declined to lay out any kind of plan for improving race relations in the U.S. and shut down questions from reporters who asked about the issue during what was billed as a news conference in White House’s Rose Garden.
“Equal justice under the law must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, color, gender, or creed,” Trump told the gathered media, looking down at prepared notes. “They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement.”
He continued, looking up from his notes: “We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen. Hopefully, George is looking down right now, and saying ‘This is a great thing that’s happening for our country.’ This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody … This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
The remark came one day after a memorial service to celebrate Floyd’s life and after a 10th consecutive night of protests against racial injustice across the U.S. The mention of Floyd came toward the middle of the nearly hour-long event, during which Trump took a victory lap to celebrate a May jobs report that showed a 1.4 percentage point drop in the unemployment rate, a much stronger showing for the U.S. economy than had been widely expected.
Floyd was killed on Memorial Day after being pinned down by Minneapolis police officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The fatal encounter, captured on video, shows Floyd and citizen bystanders crying out for help. Floyd can be heard on the video crying out “I can’t breathe” before becoming unconscious.
The officer who pinned Floyd faces a second-degree murder charge while three other officers who aided in detaining the 46-year-old have been charged with aiding and abetting. The case has also sparked separate state and federal civil rights probes.
Floyd’s death has ignited protests around the globe and his final words have become a rallying cry for protesters who have taken to the streets to protest police killings of black Americans and call for an end to systemic racism.
Trump has come under immense criticism for his response to the protests, in particular for his administration’s decision to clear apparently peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square with chemical irritants and flash-bang grenades so that Trump could walk from the White House to a nearby church for a photo-op with a Bible. The president has demeaned local leaders for their response to the protests, which have in places morphed into rioting, pushing them to employ their National Guards to “dominate the streets,” a phrase the president repeated Friday.
The president referred to protesters as “terrorists” in a letter posted to Twitter Thursday night. The White House, around which some of the nation’s most heated protests have centered, has become a veritable fortress in recent days with new barriers erected over the past 72 hours to seal it off from demonstrations.
At the White House Friday, the president tried to ignore questions from PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, a black reporter with whom he’s repeatedly clashed, as she asked why Trump hadn’t laid out any plan to address protesters’ complaints of systemic racism in the United States.
The president declined to answer shouted questions as he sat down to sign legislation directing addtional coronavirus relief funds to the hospitality and restaurant industries, holding up a finger to his lips to shush reporters asking him why he has not announced a plan to address systemic racism in the U.S.
“I’d like to sign this bill,” he said, calling that the economic growth he’d helped maintain while in office “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations.”
“Because our country is so strong, and that’s what my plan is,” he continued. “We’re gonna have the strongest economy in the world.”
He ignored follow-up questions from Alcindor and other reporters, who asked whether Trump believed a stronger economy would protected Floyd.
With the Rose Garden otherwise silent as Trump signed the legislation, Alcindor pointed out that while the overall unemployment rate in the U.S. had decreased, unemployment among African Americans had ticked up by .1 percent. White workers, by comparison, saw unemployment drop nearly 2 points from the previous month.
“You are something,” Trump told her, flicking his wrist dismissively. Vice President Mike Pence then started a round of applause from the officials assembled on stage, effectively ending the event.
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