GREENVILLE, South Carolina— Congressman Steve King of Iowa suggested President Barack Obama deserved blame for the unrest in Baltimore after 25-year old Freddie Gray died in police custody, claiming that the president set the stage with his response to previous national incidents that touched on race.
According to King, who was attending Saturday's Freedom Summit in South Carolina, race relations are "as divisive as they’ve been since the '60s — and I remember the riots in the '60s." He added that Obama "seems to have an instinct to drive a wedge in between any divisions" and had worsened the situation.
Asked directly by msnbc's Kasie Hunt whether Obama was to blame for the Baltimore riots, King initially responded "no" then revised his answer after stopping to consider.
"The culture that has been created — I'll say yes," he said. "The culture that has created that, because they drove that culture in Ferguson and it multiplied itself in Baltimore and then across the country. And if we had a different president, one that could look into the television camera and say 'Listen, God created all of us and we cannot discriminate against people based upon the distinction that he has given each of us,' a president who would do that sincerely and believe it would heal us together instead of divide us apart. And so I thought he had a great chance to bring this country together and instead, he’s gone the other direction."
King called out Obama for saying in 2009 that police officer Sgt. James Crowley "acted stupidly" when he arrested African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home after arriving to check into a possible burglary. Crowley and Gates later met with Obama at the White House for what was popularly dubbed a "beer summit" on race.
"I didn’t really imagine they were going to drive a wedge between the law and law breakers, but that seems to be what they’re doing with law enforcement," King said.
Baltimore state attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six police officers last week with crimes that included manslaughter and assault in connection Gray's arrest and subsequent death. She added that Gray was arrested without cause. Newly confirmed Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced on Friday that the Department of Justice would investigate the Baltimore police department to determine whether they had engaged in a pattern of civil rights violations.
Obama told reporters last month that Americans needed to "do some soul-searching" after Gray's death about the economic and social struggles Americans face in inner cities. At the same time, he condemned rioters and looters as "criminals" and said "there's no excuse for the kind of violence we saw" in Baltimore.