President Barack Obama scolded Donald Trump for his bleak description of America’s African-American community as recent police shootings of black men, and the violent protests that followed them, inject sensitive questions about race into the presidential contest.
The first black U.S. president took issue with the Republican nominee’s suggestion this week that “African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape than they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever.”
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“I think even most 8 year olds would tell you that whole slavery thing wasn’t very good for black people. Jim Crow wasn’t very good for black people,” Obama said in an interview that aired Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The Democratic president encouraged Trump to visit Washington’s new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, where the ABC interview was conducted.
“What we have to do is use our history to propel us to make even more progress in the future,” Obama said.
The comments come as Trump works to strike a delicate balance on the campaign trail, where he’s trying to show law-and-order toughness along with empathy for African-Americans amid criticism his campaign inspires racism.
The New York businessman has sent mixed and at times unclear messages that could rankle African-Americans even as he called Thursday for a nation united in “the spirit of togetherness.”
“The rioting in our streets is a threat to all peaceful citizens and it must be ended and ended now,” he declared at a rally in suburban Philadelphia on Thursday night. He added: “The main victims of these violent demonstrations are law-abiding African-Americans who live in these communities and only want to raise their children in safety and peace.”
Earlier in the day, however, Trump seemed to suggest that protesters outraged by the police shootings of black men were under the influence of drugs.
“If you’re not aware, drugs are a very, very big factor in what you’re watching on television at night,” he said at an energy conference in Pittsburgh.
Trump’s campaign said he was referring to news reports about the recent increase in drug-related deaths, not the protests seen on cable news the last few nights.
Neither Trump nor Clinton is expected to campaign on Friday as they prepare for Monday’s inaugural debate.
It’s unclear what role racial tensions will play in the nationally televised faceoff, but it’s likely to come up given escalating tensions in many communities following the police shootings of black men in Oklahoma and North Carolina.
Charlotte, North Carolina was under a midnight curfew overnight after two previous nights of chaotic protests that led to one death as well as injuries, arrests and vandalism.
Trump has spent the last several weeks asking black Americans for their support and asserting that Obama has failed the black community, but those appeals have been undermined at times.
On Thursday, the Trump campaign accepted the resignation of an Ohio volunteer, Mahoning County chair Kathy Miller, who told the Guardian newspaper, “I don’t think there was any racism until Obama got elected.”