Washington, Jun 5 (efe-epa).- Fostering economic growth is the best way to address racial tensions in the United States, President Donald Trump said Friday, suggesting that the black man whose death at police hands has spurred 10 days of nationwide protests would be happy about lower-than-expected unemployment.
Trump invited reporters to the White House Rose Garden to watch him sign a bill in support of the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, which is part of the response to the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.
The president, who took to Twitter earlier to tout the decline in unemployment from 14.7 percent – the highest in more than eight decades – to 13.3 percent, began by talking about the May jobs report.
The Labor Department said that employment increased by 2.5 million last month as businesses responded to an easing of Covid-19 stay-at-home orders and closures of non-essential businesses by expanding their payrolls.
Even so, the double-digit jobless rate still contrasts sharply with the May 2019 unemployment rate of 3.6 percent.
Trump called the surprising drop in unemployment “a tremendous tribute to equality,” though joblessness among black Americans rose slightly in May to its highest level since 1984 as the white unemployment rate fell by 1.8 percentage points.
He then delivered what appeared to be prepared remarks on racial justice.
“Equal justice under the law must mean every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, color, gender or creed. They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement,” he said, 11 days after George Floyd died in Minneapolis with a white police officer’s knee on his neck.
“We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen,” Trump said, referring to the protests – accompanied in some places by looting and vandalism – that followed Floyd’s May 25 death.
“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 a great, great day in terms of equality,” the president said.
Asked whether his administration was working on a program to remedy systemic racism, Trump again emphasized the economy.
“It’s the greatest thing that can happen for race relations, for the African American community, for the Asian American, for the Hispanic American community, for women, for everything,” he said. “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. And now we’re going to have an economy that’s even stronger.”
An African-American reporter, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS, questioned the notion of describing 16.8 percent black unemployment as a victory.
“You are something,” Trump said, gesturing dismissively with his hand.
The president also reiterated his demand that state governors activate the National Guard to “dominate” the streets amid the ongoing protests against police violence.
As Trump spoke, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was emblazoned in letters 35 ft. (10.6 m) tall on a major thoroughfare near the White House.
The mayor of the District of Columbia (the formal designation for Washington), Muriel Bowser, approved the initiative and announced that the district government was officially renaming the portion of 16th Street NW in front of the White House as “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”
“We want to call attention today to making sure our nation is more fair and more just and that black lives and that black humanity matter in our nation,” she said hours after formally asking the president to withdraw the additional federal forces he ordered deployed in the nation’s capital earlier this week.
The street in front of the White House was the scene Monday evening of an assault by federal forces on peaceful protesters to clear a path for Trump to walk to a nearby church and pose for photos holding a Bible.
The DC chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLMDC) criticized Bowser for prioritizing gestures over substance.