A little over a month after the president signed a tepid executive order encouraging police reform as the country reckoned with its legacy of systemic racism, Trump appears to have returned to his old ways. In an interview with CBS News on Tuesday, the president attempted to explain away police brutality against Black Americans with the both sides-ism that served him so poorly in the wake of white nationalist violence in Charlottesville three summers ago.
When asked why Black Americans continue to be killed by police officers, Trump interrupted CBS News’ Catherine Herridge, saying, “So are white people.”
The president’s answer ignores the basic demographics of the country over which he presides. As CBS News’ Wesley Lowery noted in 2016, the most recent census data shows that there are almost 160 million more white people in the U.S. than there are Black people. White Americans make up around 62 percent of the population, but 49 percent of those killed by police officers; Black Americans make up 13 percent of the population, but represent 24 percent of those killed by police officers. According to a database compiled by the Washington Post, 1,301 Black people have been killed by the police since 2015, while 2,495 whites were killed. But because of the vast demographic differences, Black Americans are killed at a rate more than twice that of white Americans.
It may benefit the president’s electoral prospects to more seriously address the realities of police brutality in the United States: As the New York Times’ Astead W. Herndon notes, “To not acknowledge the disproportionate impact [of police killings] puts him at odds with public opinion.” (In June, polls showed that two in three Americans considered the police killing of George Floyd to be representative of larger problems of systemic racism within law enforcement.) Also, an argument that posits that more white Americans have been killed by police since 2015 than there have been U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan may not be the talking point to defend law enforcement that the president thinks it is.
Trump, however, went for a more combative route to round out his day. In the CBS News interview, he went on to defend the Confederate flag on free-speech grounds: “I know people that like the Confederate flag and they’re not thinking about slavery.” And later, he went rally-mode in a Rose Garden speech, attacking former vice-president Joe Biden; anticipating “tremendous fraud” in mail-in voting in November; calling the countries that make up his travel ban “jihadist regions”; and calling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “young woman not talented in many ways.” The speech was intended to be about an executive order meant to hold China accountable for “suppressive actions against Hong Kong.”