The President equated white supremacists with counter protesters during his press conference on Tuesday
Trump's remarks offended communities who felt he should have stood by them
If there’s one message that communities of color have for President Donald Trump, it’s that what doesn’t break them makes them stronger.
During a news conference Tuesday at Trump Tower, Trump equated neo-Nazis and white supremacists with the “alt-left” on the other side – even after his top White House aides spent days trying to clean up after the President’s initial vague response to the violence.
In the wake of those comments, leaders in communities of color told CNN that they aren’t necessarily surprised.
“His comments were nothing new,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the executive director of the Georgia Council on American-Islamic Relations, told CNN on Wednesday. “We all suspected that the statement he read on Monday wasn’t genuine, but we didn’t expect him to come out about what he really thought in such a public way. (Communities of color) are desensitized because he’s said so much about us in the past.”
Mitchell pointed specifically to Trump’s travel ban and history of railing against the dangers posed by immigrants. He continued: “The one positive thing is that (Trump’s latest statement) forces targeted communities to come together and protect themselves.”
Mitchell told CNN he’s been encouraging his community of Muslim-Americans in Georgia to take self-defense classes, engage in dialogues with their neighbors to educate people about their culture – and encouraged them not to back down efforts to take down monuments that reference slavery.
“People of color have already been on high alert,” he said.
Trump isn’t signaling that he’s backing down from his remarks. On Tuesday, White House aides sent surrogates a memo to stand behind the points made Trump in his explosive news conference.
And on Thursday, he denounced the removal of monuments to Confederate figures as “sad” and “so foolish” on Twitter.
Muslim-Americans aren’t the only people of color who worry about heightened rhetoric. Groups like Voto Latino have also been outspoken about Trump’s tone as President – and Jessica Reeves, the chief operating officer of the organization Voto Latino, made it clear that Latinos should stick together.
“Trump continues to divide our nation by amplifying false stereotypes and building on people’s fears. We need a President who is not afraid to go up against white supremacists and who will uphold America’s values on equality and inclusion,” Reeves told CNN. “In the meantime, we must continue to come together to protect our communities, our collective work is now more important than ever.”
Hilary O. Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, echoed those sentiments.
“It was both disappointing, offensive and quite frankly confusing,” he said of Tuesday’s news conference.
He continued: “But it wasn’t as if these concerns didn’t already exist. … We’ve had instances similar to (the Charlottesville protests), sadly.”
Shelton told CNN he was disappointed with the response to Trump, even after the press conference.
Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer was killed Saturday when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters gathered to oppose a “Unite the Right” rally of white nationalist and other right-wing groups. Nineteen others were injured in the incident. A 20-year-old man from Ohio, James Alex Fields Jr., is charged with second-degree murder in Heyer’s death.
“He didn’t even show up to the woman’s funeral,” Shelton said of Trump. “We’re looking for someone to pull the country together. And we’re not getting the appropriate response from our leader.”