As Delaware approaches 10,000 cumulative positive novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases, much of Governor John Carney's bi-weekly press conference Friday was spent addressing the unrest in the community at large--not due to pandemic restrictions, but from nationwide protests regarding police brutality and the killing of George Floyd while in custody in Minneapolis.
"People are very angry with the immediate circumstances around the relationship between law enforcement and the black community in our country; it's a very difficult history, and one that we need to continue to address, to listen to the protesters--that's a big part of my job."
As businesses are boarding up and the city worked to close streets, the governor pleaded that this evening's protests be peaceful.
"Protest, exercise your First Amendment rights to free speech, but do it peacefully, do it understanding that ultimately, at the end of the day, while it might not feel that way all of the time, we are in this together," he said.
He refuted any claims that he tried to stop protests, but said:
"I happen to believe it's the responsibility of leaders right now to turn the temperature down," he said "I'm not trying to stop protests, I'm trying to avoid what can happen when protests get out-of-control. I'm trying to find a better way, a way that's more productive, and sometimes you have to go through an experience that's painful to get to the other side, and it's been a painful week. And it's my wish and my prayer that we continue on a peaceful path," said the governor.
Wilmington Police, which he noted exercised considerable restraint after protests turned into riots and looting last Saturday in Wilmington, will be the lead agency. They'll be assisted by New Castle County and Delaware State Police. The governor wouldn't say what it would take to call up the Delaware National Guard.
"We always have the guard in a back-up role, and that'll be the approach tonight."
At the end of the first week of Delaware's rolling reopening, he said the country as a whole saw good news on the unemployment front as restaurants and service industries began to open their doors again. Secretary of the Department of Labor Cerron Cade again apologized for a technological error which reset the application process for many self-employed and independent contractor claimants, and said the department is now focusing on fraudulent claims, which multiple states have seen becoming an issue.
"The Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Labor has been working with states to try to mitigate that as much as possible," Cade said. "Obviously, this has an impact on the amount of time it may take to process some of these claims. Again, these individuals who are applying for employment, have never had to provide data or wage information to the Department of Labor before. And once they do we have to vet that out, verify."
Before closing out the news conference, Carney called for unity in light of more protests scheduled for the weekend, beginning in Wilmington Friday night.
"Whether you're talking about the challenges that we faced with a COVID-19 pandemic or whether you're talking about the challenges that we face with these very serious inequities that exists in our society--with our need to repair relationships among our citizens of color in our state, particularly as it relates to law enforcement--the way we're going to do it is if we work together."
"Talk is cheap," Carney said multiple times, but noted it's through listening that vital reforms will arise.
"My message to the protesters is: I hear you." he said. "I'm the governor of this state. It's my responsibility to make sure that the rights of every Delawarean are protected. And it's my responsibility to make sure that the relationship between law enforcement and the people of our state gets better, is everything it can be, and is conscious of the ugly history of our state and our country. Because without acknowledging that, you can't really hear or appreciate or understand the anger and frustration. And it's hard to go from that to taking action to address the underlying inequities that persist. And so I think my job...is to listen first, and then to act in conjunction with other leaders, people of good will from across our state, to make meaningful change."