Trump calls Floyd death 'grave tragedy,' decries violent protests in Florida speech

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Anderson Cooper: Trump's Bubba Wallace tweet was 'racist, just plain and simple' Beats by Dre announces deal with Bubba Wallace, defends him after Trump remarks Overnight Defense: DOD reportedly eyeing Confederate flag ban | House military spending bill blocks wall funding MORE on Saturday called the death of George Floyd a “grave tragedy” while decrying “violence and vandalism” as protests rippled across the country in the aftermath of the incident.

Floyd, an unarmed black man, died in police custody on Monday in Minneapolis.

“The death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis was a grave tragedy. It should never have happened. It has filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger, and grief,” Trump said at the outset of remarks at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., after viewing the historic SpaceX launch

ADVERTISEMENT

“I understand the pain that people are feeling. We support the right of peaceful protesters and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or with peace,” Trump continued. “The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters, and anarchists.”

The president thereafter blamed the violence on “antifa and other radical left-wing groups,” accusing them of burning down buildings and staging protests that adversely impact the citizens residing in America’s cities. He called for “healing” and “justice,” not “hatred” and “chaos.”

Trump’s remarks, which consumed more than ten minutes of his remarks following the launch, punctuated protests – some of them violent — that have rippled across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death, including outside the White House.

As Trump witnessed the launch in Florida, demonstrators staged protests outside the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue,  shouting “I can’t breathe!” and “Don’t shoot!” The protests were similar to demonstrations that took place the night before.

Trump throughout the day on Saturday strongly rebuked protesters in Washington, Minneapolis and elsewhere, floating the idea of the U.S. military stepping in to stop the demonstrations. The National Guard has been fully mobilized in Minneapolis to confront protests, and other cities have implemented curfews in order to address them.

Trump himself was criticized for stoking violence after he tweeted early Friday that protesters were “thugs” and appeared to threaten military action, writing that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump has defended his statement and refuted accusations he was inciting violence. He has also denied knowledge of the racially-charged origins of the phrase, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Floyd was killed in police custody on Monday. A video of the incident showing Floyd pleading for breath as an officer knelt on his neck sparked massive and growing outrage.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with murder on Friday and Trump has ordered a Justice Department civil rights investigation into his death in addition to the ongoing local investigation.The four officers involved in the incident were also fired but demonstrators and others have called for further action. 

Trump, who has spoken to Floyd’s family, on Saturday offered support for the “overwhelming majority of police officers” who are devoted to serving the public.

“No one is more upset than fellow law enforcement officers by the small handful who fail to abide by their oath to serve and protect,” Trump said.

“In America justice is never achieved at the hand of an angry mob. I will not allow angry mobs to dominate,” Trump said, declaring it “essential” that the “rule of law” and independent justice system be protected.

Trump’s statement, which was more measured than the tweets he has sent about the protests in recent days, represented his first extended remarks on Floyd’s death and the protests that it has sparked across the country. 

Saturday’s launch in Cape Canaveral marked the first time in nearly a decade that American astronauts launched from U.S. soil on a mission to outer space, and the first time a private company has flown humans into orbit.   

The event was a bright spot for the United States at a time when the country is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic – an outbreak that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Trump sought to offer a message of hope amid the pandemic – his administration’s handling of which has endured tremendous scrutiny – as well as the widespread protests against police brutality.

Updated 7:23 p.m.