President Donald Trump took zero questions from reporters Friday after three days of escalating nationwide protests over police violence and the death of George Floyd.
At what the White House had described as a news conference Friday afternoon, Trump read a statement in the Rose Garden criticizing China and saying the U.S. was “terminating” its relationship with the World Health Organization over its response to the coronavirus. The president made no mention of the protests, nor did he take any queries from the press.
Later that afternoon at a roundtable on the coronavirus, Trump addressed the protests for Floyd, a Black man who pleaded “I can’t breathe” as a white police officer knelt on his neck. The president expressed “deepest condolences” to Floyd’s family, whom he said he spoke to, and lamented the “horrible, horrible situation.” He also condemned the civil unrest in Minneapolis in response to the dayslong delay in charging the officer who pinned his knee into Floyd’s neck, saying “we can’t allow” protests “to turn into anarchy and chaos” and “looters should not be allowed to drown out the voices of peaceful protesters.”
Earlier Friday, Trump had tweeted about the protests in Minneapolis, calling the largely Black protesters “thugs” and threatening them with state-sanctioned violence, adding, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” (Twitter applied a “glorifying violence” label to Trump’s tweet for violating its rules.)
Trump later claimed to clarify his tweet, saying “looting leads to shooting,” noting there was a shooting in Minneapolis on Wednesday and seven people shot in Louisville Thursday amid protests. However, in Trump’s initial tweet, the expression — first used by a racist Miami police chief in the 1960s — came after the president mentioned the military was “with” Minnesota’s governor and said, “Any difficulty and we will assume control.”
After the news conference, Trump’s 2020 campaign also put out a statement blaming the media and Democrats for “purposefully misrepresenting” what Trump said in his tweet, claiming they were doing so for “political gain” and “ratings.”
Protests, which started on Tuesday in Minneapolis, expanded nationwide on Thursday night. Some of the civil unrest led to a local police precinct in Minneapolis being burned and a Target and other storefronts being damaged, as demonstrators continued to call for the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck to be charged (all four officers involved have been fired).
On Friday afternoon, that officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter. The charges came four days after Floyd’s death and a bystander video of Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck went viral, and followed three nights of escalating protests.