On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the president’s reaction to police killings of black people, particularly in light of the Alton Sterling and Stephon Clark cases. Her response was … less than stellar.
On Tuesday, it was announced that the police who shot and killed an unarmed African-American man, Sterling, almost two years ago, would not face charges. Earlier this month, another unarmed African-American man, Clark, was shot and killed by police in his grandparents’ backyard while holding only a cell phone.
Sanders was asked about the matter by White House press corps member April Ryan and Sanders initially gave this response: “Certainly a terrible incident, this is something that is a local matter, and that’s something that we feel should be left up to local authorities at this time.”
After that vague non-response, Ryan pressed Sarah specifically about President Trump’s reaction to the news and about police accountability. Sanders responded by almost completely evading the question:
Certainly we want to make sure that all law enforcement is carrying out the letter of the law. The president’s very supportive of law enforcement but at the same time in these specific cases, in these specific instances, those would be left up to local authorities and not something for the federal government to weigh into.
Then, NBC News reporter Kristen Welker asked Sanders “You said these are local issues. And with respect, this seems to be an issue that the entire country is grappling with. Does the president not need to show leadership on this issue?” Sanders responded by refusing to give a clear answer and she pivoted by dismissing it as a divisive issue:
When the president has talked about a number of issues, we want to find ways to bring the country together. Certainly not looking for any place of division. I think you’ve seen that in the policies he’s put forward. He wants to grow the economy, he wants to do that for everybody. He wants a better America for every American and that’s been a repeated thing out of this White House. But when it comes to the authority to, uh, on the rulings that have taken place in the last few days, those are things that have to be done at a local level and they’re not federal decisions at this time.
Welker brought up the topic again, saying, “A lot of African-American moms all across the country feel as though their sons are dying. Doesn’t the president feel like he needs to do something about that?” Sanders gave a confusing response, at one point shifting the conversation to school safety and another time to border security.
The White House’s silence and diversions when it comes to police killings and brutality aren’t surprising, but they are noteworthy, particularly because it’s one of the most prominent crises in our country and the president doesn’t really have any ground to stand on when offering the excuse that he doesn’t have time to comment. It seems odd that Trump somehow managed to find time to call Roseanne Barr after the successful season premiere of her new show (in which she plays a Trump supporter—she also supports Trump in real life), but he doesn’t have time to comment on important, life-or-death issues affecting the country like these.
Watch Sanders’ full press conference below. You can watch the exchange between Welker and Sanders at around the 11-minute mark.