“All I say is, freedom of speech,” Trump said when asked about the flag. “It’s very simple. … Well, people love it and I don’t view — I know people that like the Confederate flag, and they’re not thinking about slavery.”
Trump’s remarks come after weeks of nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism after the death in May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in Minneapolis police custody.
They also come amid a deepening debate over Confederate symbols. Some demonstrators have toppled statues of Confederate figures, arguing that their removal is long overdue. Democrats on Capitol Hill have pushed forward with a proposal to remove the names of Confederate generals from military installations, and NASCAR last month banned displays of the Confederate flag at all of its events and properties.
In the interview with CBS News’s Catherine Herridge, Trump called Floyd’s death “terrible.” But he appeared to dismiss the notion that systemic racism is a problem in U.S. law enforcement.
“Why are African Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?” Herridge asked Trump.
“And so are white people,” he replied. “So are white people. What a terrible question to ask. So are white people — more white people, by the way. More white people.”
In absolute numbers, more white people than black people are killed by police in the country. According to a Washington Post analysis last month, 45 percent of those shot and killed by police since 2015 were white, while 23 percent were black.
But white people comprise 60 percent of the U.S. population, while black people make up only 13 percent. Thus, black people are fatally shot by police at a higher rate than white people.
Democrats accused Trump of ignoring the brutality many black Americans face at the hands of police.
“His choice to disregard the lived Black experience rather than honor innocent victims, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, underscores the need for a president who unites us instead of dividing us on racial lines at every opportunity,” DNC spokesperson Danai Pointer said in a statement.
Mark Berman contributed to this report.