White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany says the movement Black Lives Matter, “defines themselves as ‘defund the police’ and that’s something this President stands against.”

Today at the White House, the President’s Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany attempted to hold a White House Press conference and repeat Trump’s victorious presentation of increased job numbers last week, saying Friday’s Department of Labor jobs report was “encouraging to say the absolute least.” Almost immediately, reporters questioned McEnany on the ongoing police brutality protests which McEnany denounced.

“We had more than 2.5 million [jobs] added, the prediction was that 7.5 million jobs would be lost. This was a 10 million swing toward the positive side and, in fact, the greatest number of jobs created in a single month on record. That is extraordinary,” McEnany said. She highlighted increased job opportunities for Black Americans, saying “300,000 jobs were created for Black Americans in particular.” McEnany interpreted these numbers as market confidence in President Trump, labeling him “the jobs President, who created the hottest economy in modern history once, and will do it again.” She then began to take questions.

On the call to defund police

Reporters at the Press Conference immediately shifted focus away from the jobs numbers and towards the ongoing unrest as a result of the murder of George Floyd and the larger impacts of systemic racism. The opening question asked: “What’s the President is thinking on this growing movement to either defund or dismantle police forces across the country and what reforms does the President think would be appropriate in the wake of the George Floyd killing?” McEnany responded: “The President is appalled by the defund the police movement. The fact that you have sitting Congresswoman wanting to defund the police, notably Rashida Tlaib, notably Biden advisor AOC, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a former Clinton and Eric Holder spokesperson Brian Fallon, wanting to defund our police across this country is appalling. This is rolling back the protective layers that protect Americans in their homes and in their places of business.” 

McEnany equated calls to decrease police department funding with the call to defund the police, saying “Mayor de Blasio, the Mayor of New York, wants to take money away from the police, that means cutting of the police, it means reducing police departments, that means defunding police departments.”

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, during a Democratic Primary Debate over the party nomination for her 14th district seat, said she is “actively engaged in advocacy for a reduction of our NYPD budget.” Her ally in the House, Rep. Ilhan Omar, from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, called to “disband the Minneapolis Police Department” which she described as “beyond reform.” Omar also expressed her support for the Minneapolis City Council, which voted on Sunday to defund and dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. 

The co-founder of Black Lives Matter argues that safety in Black communities is achievable without police: “We started this campaign for community members to really be involved in the conversation about how to keep ourselves safe without an overreliance on law enforcement. And what we concluded is that we need social workers. We need these resources to go to our social workers and educators. We need it to go to our schools. We would love to have mental-health professionals when we have certain crises in our communities.”

Later in the Press Conference, McEnany would clarify Trump’s position: “Black Lives Matter DC said Black Lives Matter means defund the police. So if that’s what the movement means, that is something this President stands against.” 

According to McEnany, “you eliminate police officers, you will have chaos and crime in our country.”

Trump has not yet decided what reform measures he will support. “As for solutions, he’s talking through a number of proposals, no announcements on that, but he definitely recognizes the horrid injustice done to George Floyd, and is taking a look at various proposals,” McEnany explains. However, McEnany added that economic reform is an important facet of racial justice “This President has repeatedly through his actions stood up for the Black community, and a big piece of that is absolutely economic reform.” She cited Trump’s economic “opportunity zones,”  “making sure [the TPP] didn’t take place,” and “record funding” of Historically Black Colleges and Universities as “a good start.” 

McEnany voiced Trump’s support of peaceful protestors and credited the national guard with largely ending DC riots, saying “The President recognized that the protests have largely been peaceful. Why have they been peaceful? It’s because of the actions taken by this administration. If you’ll notice, Minneapolis was in chaos until the National Guard came in, and then it was secure.”

The Executive Director of ACLU Maryland criticized the use of the National Guard in response to protests, arguing that “the practice of using military-style measures to intimidate and silence Black and allied voices for racial justice must stop.” This criticism came after Trump requested members of Maryland’s National Guard to come to DC to aid in the protest response. A reporter at the press conference asked McEnany if “there [are] any regrets on the part of the President or anyone here about how people were treated, people who were peacefully protesting, how they were rushed out so violently?” Tear gas and flashbangs were used near Lafayette Park to disperse protesters, after the historic St. John’s church caught fire, and protesters added flammable objects to the flames.

McEnany said “No, there’s no regrets…The President is sorry about the fact that Antifa wreaks havoc in our streets and the failure of some members of the media to note that. Like CNN, Chris Cuomo said ‘Show me where it says protesters are supposed to be peaceful?”

A second reporter corrected McEnany, clarifying “the burning of St. John’s happened on Sunday nights. And a lot of the violence that you’re talking about, that happened on Sunday night. What [the other journalist] was asking about was on Monday, when as anyone who was down there knows it was almost exclusively peaceful, especially in the moments before the chemical conditions for use on those protesters.” McEnany responded “Yes, the burning of St. John’s is what prompted the decision to move the perimeter.”

McEnany denies the existence of systemic racism in the police departments

McEnany closed the Press Conference by asking the participants to focus on the “great things” our police have done. She then listed a series of human-interest interactions between the police and the citizens they serve: “It’s just there’s so much focus on our police officers right now. There are absolute cases of injustice, and our heart breaks for these cases. But I just want to note some of the great things our police have done last year alone. In Alaska, retired cop Kim Castro jumped in freezing water to help victims to safety after a plane crash. An Idaho woman said ‘he saved my son’s life ; commenting on a cop who saved her disabled son. And a detective was killed while helping a motorist in Rhode Island…” McEnany listed ten more cases, before concluding “This is who our great law enforcement officers are, and we should remember that.”

Asked “Does the President feel that there is systemic racism in law enforcement?”, McEnany denied the existence of widespread racism within American police departments. McEnany says Trump acknowledges “injustices in our society” but believes “by and large, [the police are] good people.”

Ava DeSantis is Gen Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. She has a background in political science and history at George Washington University.    

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