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Housing Sec. Carson Says He Doesn't Understand Why People Think Trump's Response To Protests Is 'Hat

President Trump listens as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson speak during a coronavirus task force briefing in March. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
President Trump listens as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson speak during a coronavirus task force briefing in March. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Earlier this week, President Trump threatened to deploy the military if state and local governments could not quell protests against police brutality and the death of George Floyd.

The president continues to draw ire from many who say he is inciting violence. In particular, Trump is facing backlash forstaging a photo-opat the historic St. John’s Church across the street from the White House on Monday. U.S. Park Police and the National Guardused tear gas to clear peaceful demonstratorsfrom the area a half hour before a scheduled city-wide curfew was set to take effect. 

Despite all of this turmoil, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, the only black American in Trump’s Cabinet, says he doesn’t view Trump as hateful. Carson was not present during the visit to St. John’s Church. 

“The president and I have many conversations. I do not quite understand why so many people think he’s hateful,” Carson says. “When you look at the things that he’s done over the course of his life, I don’t understand it.” 

While Carson says he understands the anger over Floyd’s death, he says he’s disappointed that some protesters are looting businesses. 

“I am very disappointed with the fact that people have used this as an excuse to vandalize and tear up the neighborhoods of the people who are so vulnerable and are least able to afford such things,” he says. “And, you know, I understand the anger and the wrath, but I do not understand why they can’t see that they’re hurting the very people they purport to be standing for.”

Interview Highlights

On his perspective as the only black member of Trump’s cabinet

“Well, I think not only as an African American, but as an American period, you know, seeing what happened in Minneapolis is horrifying. And, you know, I, like everyone else, want to see justice here. You know, I’m glad the Justice Department is looking into it. I hope there will be some rapidity with what goes on because I think people are very impatient. This is very clear cut. It’s seen right there on the screen across the world, what happened. So it’s going to be pretty hard to excuse that, quite frankly.”

On whether fixating on rioters distracts from the goal of the majority of peaceful protests

“Unfortunately, though they may not be the majority, they are wreaking havoc on people. And we have to stop that from happening. Do we have to look at, maybe this is an opportunity to engage more in the discussions about racism and unfairness that occurs? I think we would be smart to take advantage of this time period to do that.”

On his feelings regarding Trump using force against peaceful protesters to have pictures taken in front of St. John’s church

“Well, again, the majority of the people there were probably peaceful protesters. But as I’m sure you probably have heard by now, there were those who were throwing bottles of frozen water, pipes were hidden along a pathway and bricks to be utilized. And all of those people were told by loudspeaker, starting at 6:30 [p.m. ET] to clear the area. Some of the peaceful ones did clear the area. Some of them refused to clear the area. And if you’re going to have the president walking through that area, it needs to be cleared. It was said that that tear gas was used. It was not. It was pepper balls and smoke canisters.” 

NPR reports the U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops used tear gas to push protesters away.

On pushback that such chemicals are frequently known as tear gas

“But they’re not tear gas. And here’s my point that I try to make in all these situations. We spend so much time getting into our respective corners and criticizing each other and fighting each other. When will come a time when we can actually use these opportunities to bring light? You know, it was Martin Luther King who said darkness should not drive out darkness. Only light can do that. He said hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. Somebody is going to have to begin to emphasize those very things that make such a dramatic improvement in our society and not revert back to, you know, tribalism and hatred.”

On the president’s tweet that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”

“Well that was borne out. Look, the people who, in fact, have been shot, who were coming in to, you know, pillage people’s property, that of course, is going to happen because people are going to try to protect their property. Now, when that hateful official said that years ago he was talking about something completely different.”

On whether he might lead a White House task force on policing

“We’re talking about some of the various things that we can potentially do. You know, what we really want to do is something constructive, you know, rather than just fighting and belittling each other. Let’s talk about what we can do as a society that will help everybody to be able to live together, to work together effectively and give everybody appropriate opportunities in our country. Let’s level the playing field for everybody. That doesn’t mean that we pick one group and we say you’re evil and, you know, let’s gather the forces against you. It means we want everybody to be successful. That seems to be something that’s very difficult for some people to understand. It has to be their group that is special. And if it’s not then, you know, you’re being hateful. We can’t do that. We have to recognize that people are people and they all deserve to be respected and they all deserve equal rights.”

On what he means when he says some people think their group has to be special

“That’s a general statement. I’m not talking about anybody specific. But we’ve reached the point in a society where people like to take a group and say, this is the group d’jour. And, you know, everybody else’s rights are secondary to theirs. And that’s not what America is. That’s not what we should be about.”

On what the Trump administration is doing to address the coronavirus hitting black Americans especially hard

“You know, the coronavirus outbreak has shown a spotlight on the fact that certain minority communities, blacks and Hispanics especially, are dying at much higher rates. Why? The obvious answer is because of the comorbidities, you know, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, asthma, etc. But, you really have to go to the next later beneath them and say, ‘Why do those things exist more in those communities?’ If you don’t address it at that level, it’s putting a Band-Aid on it. So I think we have to address housing. That’s why I’ve had such a big emphasis on affordable housing and on removing those barriers that prevent us from using the technology, the innovation that we have to be able to build affordable housing. And we’re going to continue to really emphasize that very strongly. It means we have to look at people’s health care needs over the long run. They have to have long-term health care. If you really want to have an impact, yes, it’s nice to come in with the brigade of people and taking people’s blood pressures and saying, you know, we’re going to do diabetic screening, but unless you have that long-term continuous care, you’re not really doing anything except making yourself so good.”

On why the Trump administration has tried to dismantle Obamacare, even as it provides long-term health care

“Well, you know, there are some who feel that that’s the answer and there are some who felt that maybe there are better answers. You know, ask yourself just this question: How much money is spent every year on each person in Medicaid? The answer is about $9,100. Is there a better way to spend that much money to make sure that people get the kind of care that they should have? Those are the kind of questions that should be asked by all of us, rather than just, you know, grasping onto one particular thing and saying this is the answer and if you’re against that, you’re a bad person.” 

On whether he would extend a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions past July 1

“Well, we’re already in the process of discussing that question. And obviously, if more extensions are needed, they will be granted.”

On whether the U.S. would be prepared if there’s a second wave of coronavirus

“ ‘If’ is the keyword there. Because it’s not clear that there will be a second wave. But if, in fact, there is, obviously, we’re much better prepared for it now than we were previously. Both in terms of PPE, in terms of understanding the virus, understanding how to live with it, how to minimize its spread. I think it still is incompetent upon us to emphasize to people that the guidelines are necessary and appropriate; in terms of social distancing, in terms of wearing masks when you cannot social distance, in terms of hand washing until we have eliminated the threat or until such time as we have effective vaccinations or cures.”

On whether it’s safe enough to host in-person political conventions in the summer

“I think what we really need to ask ourselves is, do we have other possibilities? What are the ways that we can still maintain safety? And, you know, let’s work with our medical professionals and public health officials to figure out if there is, in fact, a safe way to do that.”

Lynn Menegon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd and Kathleen McKenna. James Perkins Mastromarino and Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.