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In an unprecedented cave to widespread criticism and the ongoing nationwide unrest over the killing of George Floyd, President Trump announced that he was delaying the political rally his reelection campaign had scheduled next Friday on Juneteenth — the holiday that commemorates the end of American slavery — in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the horrifying 1921 Tulsa race massacre during which a mob of white Tulsans attacked, trapped, and firebombed their black neighbors in the city’s Greenwood District, ultimately murdering more than 300 people.
Trump, whose conduct in the aftermath of Floyd’s death has further damaged his standing in opinion polls, claimed in a late-night tweet on Friday that “many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date out of respect for this Holiday, and in observance of this important occasion and all that it represents.” He said the June 19 rally, Trump’s first since the nationwide lockdowns over the coronavirus pandemic, was being moved to Saturday, June 20 to “honor their requests.”
Trump campaign officials, eager to return the president to the trail and resurrect the big rallies with supporters that he craves, announced the event on Wednesday and immediately set off a wave of backlash over the timing and location, particularly since Oklahoma is a state President Trump is expected to easily win in November, as he did in 2016. The Associated Press later reported that campaign officials said they were aware they were scheduling the rally on Juneteenth and expected some blowback over the timing, but not as much as they received. The officials said they chose Tulsa because it would be an easy place to hastily set up a rally where they could guarantee a large turnout despite nationwide anxiety over COVID-19.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that Juneteenth was a “meaningful day” to Trump, since “the African-American community is very near and dear to his heart,” and that the president “often shares the great work he has done for minority communities” at his rallies, and he “wants to share some of the progress that’s been made.” Also on Thursday, President Trump said in a Fox News interview that he had not realized the meaning of the date but that “the fact that I’m having a rally on that day, you can really think about that very positively as a celebration,” though he acknowledged “it wasn’t done for that reason.”
President Trump has spoken out against the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, expressed his support to Floyd’s family, and said he sympathizes with the largely peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets in recent weeks. Over that same period, he has also championed himself as the “law and order president”; tweeted a threat to shoot protesters; insisted that 99 percent of police officers — whom he has encouraged to commit more brutality — are “great, great people”; spread a conspiracy theory about a 75-year-old peaceful protester who was assaulted by cops in Buffalo; threatened to deploy the military to cities to quell the unrest; suggested George Floyd would be happy with the mid-pandemic economic numbers; and claimed that his administration “has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln.” That administration has also dismissed the idea of there being systemic racism in the U.S., and last week violently dispersed a peaceful protest outside the White House so that Trump could conduct an awkward photo op, then lied about using tear gas on the crowd. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that his administration “will not even consider” a plan to rename American military bases so they no longer bear the names of traitorous Confederate military commanders.
But the president is mercifully delaying his rally to the day after Juneteenth, though it will still be in Tulsa, and it will still come with enough risk of coronavirus transmission that the Trump campaign has told supporters that in order to attend they must first agree not to hold the campaign liable should they catch COVID-19 while cheering Trump on.