Washington — In an interview with CBS News on Tuesday, President Trump said the killing of George Floyd was "terrible" but appeared to bristle when asked why Black Americans are "still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country."
"So are White people. So are White people. What a terrible question to ask. So are White people," Mr. Trump told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge at the White House. "More White people, by the way. More White people.
Police departments are not required to report comprehensive data on police killings, but researchers have compiled statistics showing Black Americans are more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than White people. One study published in 2018 found that Black men are roughly 3.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than White men. Another study released in 2019 found that one in 1,000 Black men in the U.S. can expect to die at the hands of police over the course of their lifetimes.
A study by Harvard researchers published in late June found that the number of White people killed by the police between 2013 and 2017 was higher than any other demographic. But White people constitute a larger portion of the population than Black people, and the study also showed that Black people were three times more likely to be killed by law enforcement officers than White Americans.
Mr. Trump's comments come after weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial violence instigated by the death of Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed in Minneapolis after a White police officer pressed a knee to his neck for almost nine minutes. Mr. Trump said he believed Floyd's death was "terrible" in the interview with Herridge.
Mr. Trump's critics have accused him of overtly appealing to white supremacists through his continued defense of the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate officials. Mr. Trump said in Tuesday's interview that he believed the debate over the flag is a freedom of speech issue.
"All I say is freedom of speech. It's very simple. My attitude is freedom of speech. Very strong views on the Confederate flag. With me, it's freedom of speech. Very simple. Like it, don't like it, it's freedom of speech," Mr. Trump said. He previously said in 2015 that he believed the Confederate flag should be in a museum.
When asked if he would be "comfortable" with supporters displaying the Confederate flag at his campaign events, Mr. Trump demurred.
"You know, it depends on what your definition is. But I am comfortable with freedom of speech. It's very simple," Mr. Trump said.
Herridge pressed the president on whether he understood "why the flag is a painful symbol for many people because it's a reminder of slavery."
"Well, people love it and I don't view — I know people that like the Confederate flag and they're not thinking about slavery. I look at NASCAR — you go to NASCAR, you had those flags all over the place. They stopped it," Mr. Trump said, referring to the decision by NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag from its events. The president has also criticized Bubba Wallace, NASCAR's only Black full-time driver, saying Wallace should apologize for an incident involving a noose that was discovered in his garage stall at a speedway in Alabama.
"I just think it's freedom of speech, whether it's freedom of speech, whether it's Confederate flags or Black Lives Matter or anything else you want to talk about. It's freedom of speech," Mr. Trump continued.