Donald Trump snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Friday while crowing to the press about a better-then-expected U.S. jobs report for May.
Economic data had predicted the report would show that nearly 20 percent of Americans were unemployed during the month due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 2.5 million more people were employed in May than April, bringing the unemployment rate down from 14.7 percent in April to 13.3 percent in May.
BLS tied the labor market improvements to the limited resumption of economic activity that had screeched to a halt in March and April. The majority of gains were in temporary, low-paying service-sector jobs.
The report also showed unemployment among blacks is bucking the trend and continuing to rise. For the second month in a row, less than half of African Americans were working.
During his press conference, Trump made a startling reference to George Floyd, the unarmed black man whose senseless death at the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin incited a week of national unrest over race-motivated police violence.
“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country,” Trump said to reporters. “This is a great day for him, it's a great day for everybody."
Of course, it was anything but a great day for the deceased man, his family and friends — or for the hundreds of thousands of enraged Americans of all races, ages and demographic groups who’d participated in protests in all 50 states, as well as the citizens who’d staged protests in cities abroad, including Paris and Tokyo.
Likely Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was among those who were offended by Trump’s trivializing, self-serving spin on Floyd’s killing.
"George Floyd's last words — 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe' — have echoed all across this nation, quite frankly, all around the world. For the president to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd, I frankly think it's despicable," Biden said in a speech at Delaware State University, a public historically black university in Dover, Delaware.
The American public also is becoming disenchanted with Trump’s handling of race relations over the past three years. In a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll,
67 percent of respondents said Trump has mostly increased racial tensions, including 92 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of independents, 88 percent of Africans Americans and 63 percent of whites.
Trump’s remarks were delivered the morning after a somber memorial service at a Minneapolis chapel the day before, where the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke.
“George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks,” Sharpton said. “Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck.”
Daylight protests, nights of mayhem
On May 25, Floyd, 46, lay handcuffed and on his stomach, pleading for his life as Chauvin dug his knee into Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Two other officers also put their weight on Floyd’s body before joining a fourth officer to watch as Floyd struggled for his final breaths.
Floyd, who was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill near the scene of his killing, had not been charged formally with any crime and could not have resisted arrest.
All four officers involved have been charged in connection with the incident. Chauvin faces the most serious charge — second-degree murder — while the other three face charges of abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Protests began after Floyd’s killing was witnessed worldwide via a video taken and shared by 17-year-old Darnella Fraizer, who has since faced harassment on social media.
The video sparked outrage, sadness and a broadening awareness of the endemic brutality law-enforcement officers show toward African Americans. Responding to a Pew Research Center study, 84 percent of black adults said that, in dealing with police, blacks are generally treated less fairly than whites; 63 percent of whites said the same. Similarly, 87 percent of blacks and 61 percent of whites said the U.S. criminal justice system treats black people less fairly.
The past week has been characterized by peaceful daytime protests, followed by violent nights of looting, arson and physical attacks on police. The mayhem has resulted in curfews throughout the U.S., including in Milwaukee and Madison earlier this week.
In many cities police have responded with tear gas, clubs and rubber bullets, stirring yet more antipathy toward them. Retired top military brass harshly criticized Trump for threatening to send U.S. military forces to take control of cities where peaceful protests and riots were occurring. He ultimately gave up the idea.
The Trump administration blamed the violence on left-wing extremists who identify with the militant thinking of an amorphous anti-Semitic group called Antifa, which seeks to overturn the socio-political order. But there’s mounting evidence that larcenous opportunists, anarchists and white supremacists are behind the havoc.
In fact, both Facebook and Twitter have suspended or removed accounts started by white nationalists posing as left-wingers and urging their followers to bring weapons and inflammatory devices to the rallies.