LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
And now we turn to Washington, D.C., where last night, the National Guard was deployed to protect the White House. The fires of discord burning all over America came to President Trump's front yard, with the president fanning those flames, focusing on partisan politics, blaming Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey for letting protests get out of hand. We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Good morning.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What happened in Washington, D.C., last night, and what did President Trump have to say about it?
KEITH: Well, like in many cities around America, what started out as peaceful protests turned into violent clashes between police and protesters. Protesters set off fireworks. Police sent out clouds of pepper spray to disperse the crowds. There were reports of looting and at least one vehicle set on fire.
At around 10 o'clock last night, as all of this was unfolding not too far away from the White House, President Trump sent a pair of tweets that made it seem like he was live-tweeting cable coverage of the protests in other parts of the country. He was critical of the mayor in Minneapolis, said the National Guard who's been released in Minneapolis to do the job that the Democrat mayor couldn't do. And he also talked about the NYPD being held back from doing what it needed to do.
There's been silence ever since. I reached out to the White House last night and again this morning, asking whether President Trump would address the nation and what he is doing to try to de-escalate tensions. They haven't yet responded.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Earlier in the day, the president was on site in Florida for the launch of the SpaceX rocket with two astronauts on board. But he also addressed the protests. Let's listen.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or with peace. The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists. The violence and vandalism is being led by Antifa and other radical left-wing groups.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you hear in those remarks?
KEITH: Well, President Trump first started talking about Antifa after the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 that really represented a low point in his presidency. Since then, he's frequently come back to Antifa as a boogeyman that he calls out at his rallies, implying that electing Democrats would lead to anarchy. You know, he really specializes in outrage and division. President Trump is comfortable when he is feuding with someone or something or when he's declaring victory.
And this is a very different moment in America, where this is a country in pain. The death toll from coronavirus just hit 100,000. The economic suffering is real and much of that disproportionately felt in communities of color. And then there are these disparities that are driving the protests. The president in his remarks did try to draw a distinction between people vandalizing and setting fires and peaceful protests. He said he understands the pain people are feeling. But he didn't put words to that pain or describe the problems. And he didn't explain how he intends to bring people together.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump said he spoke with members of George Floyd's family. But is he able to put this tragic incident in a larger national context?
KEITH: You know, he's often swayed by individual stories and anecdotes. And in this case, he said that he was affected by seeing that video of the officer with his knee on Floyd's neck as Floyd begged for his life. On Friday, though, I asked President Trump whether he thinks America has a problem with police brutality. And here's what he said.
TRUMP: Well, I think that police brutality certainly is something that we've been hearing about, reading about, studying. I have for many years. And we all have to say - and I think most people would admit - that most of the policemen and women that I've seen have been outstanding. When you have something like this happen, you really - you look at it, and you just say, how does a thing like that happen? Because it just seems so bad to watch.
KEITH: For President Trump, it's a question of how a thing like this could happen. For many of the protesters, it's more a question of how can this keep happening again and again without any systemic change? Or why does a video have to go viral to lead to arrest or prosecution?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, thank you so much.
KEITH: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF TSHA'S "SACRED MIXED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.