Gov. John Carney began his semi-weekly press briefing Tuesday on a somber note, talking about rioting sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Floyd, an African American, died when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes after Floyd, 46, was reportedly accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a market.
The incident triggered racial-justice protests and even rioting, nationwide, including in Delaware.
“As governor, it hurt my heart to see the anger and frustration in so many young people in our state and to see it evolve into violence, which we all know is not the answer. These are the inequities in our society that have been laid bare,” Carney said during his Tuesday, June 2, press briefing.
Further frustrating him, he said, is that “the violence in some ways discredits the focus we all must have, and that I try to have, as an elected official addressing underlying inequities that give rise to this problem.”
Carney recalled, as a boy of 12, hearing his father, who worked for the school system, say education is the answer to many societal problems.
“When I was elected governor, I wanted to address that,” the governor said.
Following peaceful protests in Seaford and Rehoboth Beach, and protests he called “a little bit mixed” in Dover, Carney said he felt recommitted to listening and responding to constituents’ concerns.
On Monday, Carney had participated in a joint phone conversation among governors and President Donald Trump, during which Trump told state leaders to “dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks.”
“You have to arrest and try people. If you don’t put it down, it will get worse and worse,” Trump said.
“It was a call like none other that I’ve been part of a part of,” Carney said, adding that the governors didn’t talk about the pandemic at all.
Carney said he was “stunned” by Trump’s comments that “ripped into the governors about what provisions they are making on the streets.”
“I thought it wasn’t what we needed at the national level at that juncture. We needed somebody who would show more support for the states and the local decisions governors need to make. They are looking for a leader who is trying to tone things down and take some of the steam out.
“Not many governors responded. Usually there are governors who chime in during that call … but it was a pretty quiet call on the governors’ side,” Carney said.
Local officials face the challenge of calming a crowd so protests don’t “explode into violence and vandalism,” he said.
“What is constructive is lowering the temperature and channeling some of the anger and frustration to positive energy and working together,” Carney said.
On Memorial Day, Carney had reflected on the “challenge of our time and our generation,” he said.
“And this is it. We have a pandemic. We’ve got another killing of a black man that shows again the relationship between the black community and police agencies. We’ve got to address both. The only way to do it is by working together.”
Most importantly, he said, is listening — a skill he included on the list he made when he first ran for office 20 years ago.
“My focus is to be a voice of calm and a voice of conciliation and a voice that attempts to bring people together,” he said.
“That’s also how we’re going to be effective in fighting COVID-19 going forward.”