WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump invoked the memory of Mr George Floyd, the black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis last month, as he touted the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying there’s a great thing happening for our country,” Mr Trump said in remarks made at the White House on Friday. “It’s a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody.”
Mr Trump named Mr Floyd in the midst of extemporaneous remarks in which he celebrated May’s job numbers, saying they are “a tremendous tribute to equality”, and called for Americans to receive “equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, colour, gender or creed”.
The White House has argued that Mr Trump meant Mr Floyd would appreciate the latter remarks.
“It was very clear the President was talking about the fight for equal justice and equal treatment under the law when he made this comment,” Mr Ben Williamson, a White House communications adviser, said on Twitter.
Mr Trump’s remarks drew a sharp rebuke from former vice-president Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, who noted that Mr Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe” as a police officer knelt on his neck.
“For the President to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd, I frankly, think is despicable,” Mr Biden said at an event in Delaware.
“I was disturbed, however, to see the President crowing this morning – basically hanging a ‘mission accomplished’ banner when there is so much work to be done – and so many Americans are still hurting.”
Former president George W. Bush was widely criticised for hanging a banner that read “mission accomplished” on an aircraft carrier, declaring the Iraq War over when fighting was continuing.
Still, Mr Trump repeatedly pointed to the economy as a salve for the nation’s strained race relations.
Asked by a reporter for his plan to address racial inequality, Mr Trump answered: “Because our country is so strong. And that’s what my plan is. We’re going to have the strongest economy in the world. We almost are there now.”
He also said that “what’s happened to our country and what you now see”, referring to the job report, “is the greatest thing that can happen for race relations, for the African-American community, or the Asian-American, or the Hispanic-American community for women, for everything”.
Friday’s surprise job report appeared to herald an economic rebound from the pandemic.
Payrolls rose 2.5 million last month after falling 20.5 million in April, the largest drop on record.
Economists had forecast that the United States would lose an average of 7.5 million jobs last month.
But while overall unemployment improved last month, the rate for African-Americans ticked up to 16.8 per cent. Latino unemployment is 17.6 per cent.
Mr Trump has grappled with his response to Mr Floyd’s death – he has condemned the incident and the officers involved, but he has also tried to snuff out protests demanding justice, police accountability and broader actions to address racial inequality in the country.
Mr Trump has no plans to attend Mr Floyd’s funeral on Tuesday in Houston.