WASHINGTON — In the middle of a news conference on improving jobs numbers Friday, President Donald Trump said George Floyd was “hopefully looking down and feeling good.”
“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 day for everybody. This is a great great day in terms of equality,” Trump said from the Rose Garden. “It’s really what our Constitution requires, and it’s what our country is all about.”
Floyd, a black man, died last week in Minneapolis police custody after a white officer pinned him to the ground under his knee. His death has sparked nationwide protests about police brutality and racial discrimination.
While the event was framed as a celebration of the surprisingly positive jobs numbers, which showed a drop in the unemployment rate, it is unclear what exactly Trump was referring to. Directly before Trump’s reference to Floyd, he was talking about “equal treatment under the law” but the broader context for the event was the jobs report.
Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh said on Twitter “the President was obviously speaking of the idea that Americans are coming together to call for equal treatment under the law.”
Before his reference to Floyd, Trump said “equal justice under the law must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement, regardless of race, color, gender, creed — they have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement, they have to receive it. We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen.”
During his event, Trump mentioned the economy in the context of African Americans and economic gains for racial minorities, a frequent refrain for his presidential campaign.
Trump boasted of how prior to the coronavirus pandemic, “We had numbers — the best in history for African American, for Hispanic American and Asian American and for everybody.”
In remarks on Friday, former Vice President Joe Biden called Trump’s reference to Floyd’s name at the White House “despicable.”
“George Floyd’s last words, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ have echoed all across this nation, quite frankly around the world. For the president to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd I frankly think is despicable. And the fact that he did so when black unemployment rose…tells you everything you need to know about this man.”
The country’s unemployment rate fell to 13.3%, but the drop in the unemployment rate was not shared evenly among all racial groups. Black and Asian American unemployment increased compared to April. Black unemployment rose from 16.7% to 16.8%, and Asian American unemployment rose from 14.5% to 15%.
“These improvements in the labor market reflected a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April,” the Labor Department said of the unemployment numbers.
Contributing: David Jackson and John Fritze