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Illinois Gov. Pritzker Says Trump Rhetoric Increases Tension In U.S.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, has been listening with us. Governor, welcome back to the program.

J B PRITZKER: Thanks so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: How serious has the violence been in Chicago?

PRTIZKER: Well, look - there is violent behavior that's being exhibited and, of course, a lot of property damage. And this is extraordinarily concerning because the peaceful protesters have a legitimate right, and they have legitimate grievances, and those should be heard. We've got to address the - you know, the issue of police who are responsible for wrongdoing being held accountable and the issue of investing in black communities and communities of color all across our state. So I'd like those voices to be heard.

And I also want to make sure that we - you know, that we address the issue of the violent behavior. And so we've had to - in response to the request from the mayor of Chicago, to bring in National Guard and state police to help out.

INSKEEP: OK. Good to note that you, among many governors, have already activated the National Guard because this is now a big part of the national discussion - the president urging governors to call out the National Guard. I suppose we should note, you're telling me you've already done that.

PRTIZKER: We did. We've - again, limited role. They're support functions. They're not on the front lines. And it was at the request of not just the city of Chicago but in other places in the state.

INSKEEP: Now, the president got governors, including you, on a call yesterday. Many of us have heard audio of that call. He said, quote, "most of you are weak" - many of you have been weak, that you need force to dominate protesters. He used the word dominate many times. And he said, quote, "if you don't dominate, you're going to look like a bunch of jerks." What did you say back to the president, Governor?

PRTIZKER: Well, you know, after a few minutes of him ranting like that and then a few other governors, mostly Republican governors, coming on and complimenting him, I just - frankly, I just couldn't take it anymore. And I had to speak up, and I told him that his rhetoric is inflaming matters, that it's making things worse and that, you know, we need to call for police reform; we need to call for calm, that that's what presidents should do and that we need national leadership in this regard. And he - unfortunately, you know, he reacted badly.

I don't think - you know, I think about how there are people in this country and there are countries outside of the United States who want to sow seeds of division and distrust here, but that shouldn't be what the president of the United States is doing; he should be about uniting us.

INSKEEP: You don't see him as a law-and-order president, which is how he described himself on television last night?

PRTIZKER: No. Look what he's done. Look at - in fact, if you watch what happened in Washington, D.C., yesterday, they purposely provoked peaceful protesters. So he's just looking to create a stage for him to stand up and say he's for law and order. He's not. He's sowing seeds of division and causing disorder.

INSKEEP: You're referring to the moment when police fired tear gas on peaceful protesters to clear the way for a photo opportunity for the president. He stood with a Bible in front of a church. He also, yesterday, of course, made a statement for the cameras in the Rose Garden of the White House, and he made a threat. He doesn't often follow through on his threats. But he did threaten to send in troops to the states on his authority. Let's listen to some of the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.

INSKEEP: As the governor of a state, how did you read that statement?

PRTIZKER: Well, first of all, what he's suggesting is illegal. The governor of a state has to ask for federal help. I don't know any governor that intends to do that. And secondly, you know, you can hear in his rhetoric that he is simply trying to, you know, make himself sound like a strongman, almost like a dictator, as if he's going to be responsible for bringing order. Well, the way you bring order is to bring down the temperature - and that's not what he's doing - and to address the issues, the legitimate issues of the protesters who are out there peacefully demonstrating.

INSKEEP: I do want to note, Governor, we've read the law that the president referred to. Ordinarily, a governor or a state legislature would request action, and that is the way most commonly that federal troops have been deployed in the States. But there does appear to be a clause that would allow the president to act on his own in case of an insurrection, if he makes a proclamation first. There is some qualifications, but the president could grab that opportunity. Do you take that as a serious threat?

PRTIZKER: Well, it would be ridiculous and unprecedented. I - you know, this president often makes threats, and, you know, it's just because he's trying to create, again - you know, like he did kind of a reality show for himself on the national stage. So I don't expect to see any of that being carried out. But, again, I would argue that what he's suggesting is illegal.

INSKEEP: Let me circle back to the original problem here, the problem of police violence, the problem of an African American who died after almost nine minutes on the ground with an officer's knee on his neck. The problem of years of African Americans killed, people of color killed at the hands of police. And some of those incidents, as you know very well, Governor, have been in the state of Illinois. What do you intend to do about that?

PRTIZKER: Well, let's start with - these are legitimate grievances, that what happened to George Floyd unfortunately isn't unique. You know, we all know of incidents - and thank God there was a camera there when George Floyd was murdered. This doesn't happen often enough - Ahmaud Arbery. It doesn't happen often enough that we get to actually see the racism being carried out and the police exceeding their authority.

Look - it shouldn't be a death sentence in America to be black. Black families today and every day of this protest have been grieving. In fact, black families have been grieving for 400 years in this country because of the institutional racism. So I've - throughout my term, and I've been in office for about a year and a half now, I've tried to address that with investments in communities that have been left out and left behind, by calling for police accountability and making sure that we're addressing the underlying issues of racism across our state. It's not unusual what's happened in Illinois; it's happened all across the nation.

But remember, the values of Illinois are somewhat unique. And we're a state that produced Abraham Lincoln, right? We're the land of Lincoln. We're the land of Barack Obama, the land of Ulysses S. Grant. And the fact is that our state has the ability to overcome this. And all of us, including the mayor of the city of Chicago and so many leaders, are in fact standing up and speaking out.

INSKEEP: I hate to mention, it's also the state of the first mayor, Richard Daley, who was notable for putting freeways between black and white neighborhoods. But we don't have to discuss that right now. I do want to raise, though, the remark by a Minnesota lawmaker elsewhere in this program, who said - in a very sad way - the system is working as it was intended to do, meaning that the system is there to oppress people of color. Do you think there is some truth to that?

PRTIZKER: Oh, there is no question that the system has worked against black and brown communities for way too long. You just talked about something 50 years ago; it still exists today. It's present today. We have to address it today. It's not over. The oppression, the discrimination - it's not over. There's no doubt about it. And that's why, again, all of us - white politicians and people of color who serve in elected office - need to stand up and do the right thing.

INSKEEP: Do you stand in support of the protesters from the last several days?

PRTIZKER: I do, and I've said so from the podium of the governor's office. I really believe that we, as leaders, that, you know, it's more than just talking; it's, you know, actions. And, again, I've been doing that ever since I took office.

INSKEEP: Governor, thanks so much. Always a pleasure talking with you.

PRTIZKER: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: J.B. Pritzker, governor of Illinois.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.