Some of those who have come onto the streets of Charlotte over the past two days say they want justice for what they say is the wrongful police killing of a black man in the city this week. Others say they want more respect — from the police, from politicians, from everyone. Some say they just want to be heard, whatever that may mean to them. The reasons are varied — but there is simply no sign that all of these protesters, who are overwhelmingly black, have come because they hate white people.
That's exactly what Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) said in an interview with BBC News on Thursday evening, when asked what the protesters' grievances are. "The grievance in their mind is the animus, the anger," he said. "They hate white people, because white people are successful and they're not."
Without being prompted, Pittenger quickly pivoted to a discussion about welfare and race. "I mean, yes, it is. It is a welfare state. We have spent trillions of dollars on welfare, we have put people in bondage so that they can't be all they're capable of being.
"America is the opportunity of freedom and liberty. We didn't become that way because we have great government, who provided everything for everyone. No. That's the destiny of America, the freedom to come to this country, why they're still coming to our shores is because they can take their work ethic and their hard effort and put up their capital and the risk and build out their lives."
Pittenger, who is from Charlotte and represents its outer suburbs, apologized on Twitter shortly after the interview aired:
What is taking place in my hometown breaks my heart. Today, my anguish led me to respond to a reporter's question in a way that I regret
His comments came shortly after news broke that a protester who was injured during the demonstrations had died.
UPDATE: Pittenger also went on CNN to apologize: "Frankly, I apologize for the comments. They certainly weren't meant in the context of how many viewed them."
Host Don Lemon asked Pittenger: "Do you believe that protesters hate white people?"
Pittenger replied: "No, sir, it's the comments that they made -- if you go back and look at the tapes, the comments they made on air. I was only trying to convey what they wre saying, and yet it didn't come out right, and I apologize. ... That certainly was not the spirit of who I am."
Pittenger is not the first politician to make a controversial, blanket statement about the racial tensions embroiling North Carolina's largest city.
Earlier on Thursday, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) called it "outrageous" that President Obama would make a joke about race while North Carolina is having race-related problems:
The "outrageous" joke in question came at a completely unrelated event Thursday at the White House. The Post's Juliet Eilperin reports the president was handing out national medals for humanities and arts. One was supposed to go to actor Morgan Freeman, who couldn't make it. So the president quipped that Freeman was undoubtedly "off playing a black president again. He never lets me have my moment."