The two pastors were James Ward and Sharon Ward, who said they were pastors for Julia Jackson, the mother of Jacob Blake. Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer, sparking demonstrations in the city.
The Wards were the only African Americans seated at the dais for a roundtable on public safety and were the only participants to bring up Blake’s shooting before the President took questions from the press.
When a reporter asked the Wards whether, like other Black community leaders, they believed police violence was a systemic issue, Trump interjected, “I don’t believe that. I think the police do an incredible job and I think you do have some bad apples.”
He added, “You do have the other situation, too, where they’re under tremendous pressure and they don’t handle it well. They call it choking and it happens.”
The President also seemed to suggest that his personal interactions with police were enough evidence for him to know that police violence was not a systemic issue.
“No, but I don’t believe that at all,” he told the reporter. “I’ve met so many police. I have the endorsement of like, so many, maybe everybody.”
The pastors never got the chance to answer the reporter’s question, including when the reporter attempted to clarify that the question was not directed toward the President. It’s not clear if Trump understood that the question was meant for the pastors.
Earlier, the Wards told the President they wanted to work with him to restore unity amid demonstrations around the country calling for policing reform.
“We believe that we can help to listen with empathy and compassion to the real pain that hurts Black Americans, but we want to be of service to you and to our nation to do whatever we can to bring true healing, true peace and to really seek God’s very best in our nation,” James Ward told Trump after offering a prayer.
When Trump was personally asked whether he thinks systemic racism is a problem in the United States, given that there are also peaceful protests around the country calling for an end to it, Trump responded, “Well, you know you just keep getting back to the opposite subject. We should talk about the kind of violence we’ve seen in Portland and here and other places.”
“The fact is that we’ve seen tremendous violence and we will put it out very, very quickly if given the chance,” he continued.
The President also seemed to blow past a question about whether there is a need for structural change to the US’ law enforcement organizations.
“Well I think the people are calling for structural change. And then you take the people of Kenosha that aren’t here and that you won’t see and that aren’t protesting, but they want change also. They want to see law and order. That’s the change they want,” the President said. “They want the police to be police.”
He added: “They want people that are going to keep them safe, where their houses aren’t broken into. Where they’re not raped and murdered. That’s what they want. And they’re protesters, too, but they don’t walk down the street … so, you know, just the way it is.”