Donald Trump appeared to support outlawing chokeholds as a law enforcement practice in an interview with Fox News that aired on Friday, but not before he defended their use in certain situations in a rambling response to a question about police reform efforts.
“I don’t like chokeholds,” Mr Trump said in answering a question from the interviewer, anchor Harris Faulkner, during a sit-down interview recorded on Thursday as the president visited Texas, where he held an event with law enforcement officials and black leaders.
Then he immediately suggested there were situations where they were acceptable.
“I will say this, as somebody that, you know, you grow up and you wrestle and you fight and you or you see what happens sometimes if you’re alone and you’re fighting somebody who’s tough and you get somebody in a chokehold,” Mr Trump said. “What are you going to do, say, oh, and it’s a real bad person and you know that. And they do exist.”
The president spoke as a number of municipalities are discussing banning chokeholds. Some top Republican leaders have said they are open to such an overhaul after George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, was killed in police custody after a white officer knelt on his neck despite cries that he could not breathe.
Mr Trump continued: “I mean, we have some real bad people. You saw that during the last couple of weeks. You saw some very good people protesting. You saw some bad people also. And you get somebody in a chokehold. And what you going to do now? Let go and say, oh, let’s start all over again. I’m not allowed to have you in a chokehold. It’s a tough situation.”
Then he suggested that if a police officer were in a fight with someone, it could be an extenuating circumstance.
“I think the concept of chokehold sounds so innocent, so perfect,” Mr Trump said. “And then you realise if it’s a one-on-one. Now if it’s two-on-one, that’s a little bit of a different story, depending on the toughness and strength. You know, we’re talking about toughness and strength.” But he went on to say: “Generally speaking, it should be ended.”
The interview aired as the president was at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, his first visit there since autumn. He spent Friday in seclusion, with a skeleton crew of aides, preparing for his address to the West Point graduating class of cadets on Saturday.
After two weeks of turmoil between Mr Trump and top military officials, the president’s advisers are hoping to keep him on script during Saturday's address, saying only what is on the teleprompter. Mr Trump spent those two weeks being heavily criticised for exacerbating racial tensions after Floyd’s death.
The president initially expressed horror at the recording taken by a bystander of a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
But after protests turned violent in Minneapolis and the police station where Mr Chauvin was based was set on fire, the president tweeted condemning the unrest and added: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The phrase was used in 1967 by Walter Headley, then Miami police chief, to describe his crackdown on young black men. Headley also said he was unconcerned with complaints of police brutality.
But Mr Trump claimed that he got it from another infamous police chief from that era — Frank Rizzo of Philadelphia, whose history of bad relations with the city’s black community was one of the reasons a statue of him near Philadelphia’s City Hall was removed last week.
“Well, it also comes from a very tough mayor, who might have been police commissioner at the time, but I think mayor of Philadelphia named Frank Rizzo,” the president said, contradicting Ms Faulkner, who said the phrase came from Headley. “And he had an expression like that, but I’ve heard it may times from — I think it’s been used many times.”
Rizzo, a career police officer, became Philadelphia’s police commissioner in 1967 and gained a reputation for bad relations with the city’s black residents that only worsened when he was elected mayor in 1972. He died in 1991. (Rizzo started overseeing the Police Department the year after Mr Trump transferred to the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.)
In the interview, he again expressed remorse for Floyd, and said that officers like Mr Chauvin, who has been charged in Floyd’s death, do damage to others on police forces.
At another point, the president said that he had done more for black people than any of his predecessors, before mentioning Abraham Lincoln.
“Let’s take a pass on Abraham Lincoln because he did good. Although it’s always questionable, you know, in other words, the end result,” Mr Trump said, trailing off.
“Well, we are free, Mr President,” Ms Faulkner responded. “He did pretty well.”
The president then ticked off a list of policy changes, like criminal justice reform efforts, funding for historically black colleges and universities, and opportunity zones. He described those decisions in starkly transactional terms.
“The people I did it for — they go on television and thank everybody but me,” Mr Trump said.
The New York Times
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