WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump bristled at a reporter’s question about police killing African Americans and defended the right to display the Confederate flag as he continued to play into racial divisions in a pair of interviews Tuesday.
In one interview, Trump seemed taken aback when asked why African Americans were still dying at the hands of police.
“And so are white people. So are white people. What a terrible question to ask. So are white people,” Trump told CBS’s Catherine Herridge. “More white people, by the way. More white people.”
There is no national database tracking police-involved shootings. But studies have shown that Black Americans are much more likely to be killed by police, even though more whites — who represent a larger portion of the population — are killed. One study that examined the use of lethal force by law enforcement from 2009 to 2012, for instance, found that, while the majority of victims (52 percent) were white, Blacks were disproportionately affected (32 percent, versus a population percentage of 13 percent). The fatality rate in such encounters is 2.8 times higher among Blacks than whites.
In the interview, Trump also defended the use of the Confederate flag, despite saying in 2015 that he believed the flag belonged in a museum.
“All I say is, freedom of speech. It’s very simple. My attitude is freedom of speech,” Trump responded. “Very simple. Like it, don’t like it, it’s freedom of speech.”
Asked whether he understood that the flag was a painful symbol to many because it was a reminder of slavery, Trump told CBS that some “people love it,” adding: “And I know people that like the Confederate flag and they’re not thinking about slavery.”
Trump has been under fire for his response to the mass anti-racism protests that broke out across the across the nation after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. In the face of demands for racial justice and equality, Trump has instead leaned in on a law-and-order message, painting protesters – most of whom have been peaceful – as domestic “terrorists” and continuing to stoke divisions.
In a second interview with the conservative Townhall Media, Trump defended the white St. Louis couple captured on video brandishing guns as they defended their home during one racial injustice protest.
Trump claimed that Mark and Patricia McCloskey “were going to be beat up badly, if they were lucky” and said their house would have been “totally ransacked and probably burned down” had they not been out there. “And now I understand somebody local, they want to prosecute these people. It’s a disgrace,” he said.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson told reporters that he spoke with Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr by phone earlier Tuesday and that the president expressed concern that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, may file charges against the couple.
“I think the president didn’t like what he was seeing, and the way people are being treated,” Parson said, adding: “I think you’ll see some sort of actions.”