Gov. Charlie Baker often shies away from weighing in on controversies involving President Donald Trump.
On Monday, he did not.
“I heard what the president had to say today about dominating and fighting,” Baker said, unprompted, during his daily COVID-19 press briefing, referring to a conference call earlier in the day during which Trump urged governors to use force against the recent wave of protests — including in Boston — in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“I know I should be surprised when I hear incendiary words like this from him — but I’m not,” Baker said during his opening remarks Monday afternoon.
“At so many times during these past several weeks when the country needed compassion and leadership the most, it was simply nowhere to be found,” he continued. “Instead, we got bitterness, combativeness, and self interest. That’s not what we need in Boston. That’s not what we need right now in Massachusetts. And it’s definitely not what we need across this great country of ours either.”
Baker, a Swampscott Republican, said he missed the weekly coronavirus response conference call between the White House and the country’s governors for the “first time” since the beginning of the outbreak — “mostly” because he was busy working on the phased plan to reopen the Massachusetts economy.
Trump’s call Monday came just hours after a large, peaceful protest against police brutality in downtown Boston on Sunday broke into looting and clashes with law enforcement, as similar scenes played out across the country. Multiple outlets reported that Trump took the opportunity to berate governors for not cracking down more forcefully and suggested using military force in response to unruly demonstrators.
“Someone throwing a rock is like shooting a gun,” Trump told the governors, according to audio obtained by The New York Times. “You have to do retribution.”
Baker said Monday that the president should instead be promoting empathy. Whether it’s addressing a pandemic or issues around race, the governor added that “we are all in this one together.”
“If one community really does feel — based on incidents and events time and time again — that they are being hindered from actually being able to get somewhere, that affects their sense of their stake in what’s going on here,” he said. “And I think that America is at its greatest and at its best, when its leaders promote the notion that he all have a stake in everybody else’s success, because frankly we do.”
Since taking office five years ago, Baker has been selective in his most direct criticism of Trump and mostly avoids national partisan disputes. During the briefing Monday, he was also asked if he regretted not speaking out against his fellow Republican’s recent incendiary social media comments about the protests.
“I think my comments today speak for themselves, and I’ve spoken out more than once — and probably more than many of my colleagues,” he said.
Before the protests across the country escalated over the weekend, Baker said he was “outraged” by Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police last week and said he understood why protesters in Minnesota set fire to local buildings in anger.
“We hope people protest peacefully, but honestly, it’s — a moment like that and an event like that, I can’t imagine why people wouldn’t want to get out on the streets and make a point about it,” he said last Friday.
After a day of protests Sunday in Boston, the governor commended the “vast majority” of people who peacefully demonstrated, but blasted the “the individuals whose violent actions, looting and property destruction was criminal and cowardly — and distracted from the powerful statement made today by thousands of Massachusetts residents.”
Baker reiterated that sentiment during his opening remarks Monday. While he said the “criminals and cowards” who “tarnished that night’s peaceful protest” would see their day in court, Baker condemned all “shapes and sizes” of injustice, from daily offenses to the country’s history of “discriminatory federal housing policy.”
“They’re all unacceptable,” he said. “Every instance of discrimination. Every attempt to use race as a tool. Every offhand slant among community members or in a workplace. But injustice experienced at the hands of a public institution that’s supposed to be rooting this out, that can often be the most despicable act of all.”
Baker said the cumulative effect of experiencing such injustices can rob people of their hope, destroy their sense of safety, and over time incite anger.
“Fear, anger, and hopelessness experienced alone is a dead end,” Baker said. “But there are avenues that do lead to progress. Last night, I saw tens of thousands of people unite to continue the work to build a way forward for everyone who feels trapped in that dead end. By an order of magnitude, we can add up the number of people who want to build on progress and do well for one another [and] dwarfs those who want to do the opposite.”