Donald Trump has suggested George Floyd will be pleased about US job numbers, saying the man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck “is hopefully looking down and saying this is a great thing”.
The president made the remark during an address about figures that showed unemployment had fallen.
“Hopefully George is looking down and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,” he said.
“It’s a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day in terms of equality.”
Mr Trump was speaking from the Rose Garden at the White House hours after the Labor Department said that US employers had added 2.5 million workers to their payrolls last month.
Economists had been expecting them instead to slash another 8 million jobs amid the ongoing fallout from the response to coronavirus.
“This shows that what we’ve been doing is right,” Mr Trump said of the jobs numbers.
“This is outstanding what’s happened today.”
He said the apparently improving economy was “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations” and the African American community.
His comments prompted instant outrage, with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden calling them “despicable”.
He said: “George Floyd’s last words, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ have echoed all across this nation…For the president to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd I frankly think is despicable.”
Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder after video showed him placing his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while detaining him on 25 May. Mr Floyd could be heard gasping while repeatedly saying: “I can’t breathe.”
Three other officers, Thomas Lane, J Kueng and Tou Thao, face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four have been fired.
A lawyer for Kueng, who had not yet completed his training, told a court on Friday that he told his fellow officers as they were detaining Mr Floyd: “You shouldn’t do that.”
Hundreds of people attending a memorial service for Mr Floyd on Thursday were told he was killed by a “pandemic of racism”.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for his family, revealed the 46-year-old had recovered from coronavirus after testing positive in April.
“It was that other pandemic that we’re far too familiar with in America, that pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd,” he said.
While demonstrations have calmed in recent days, volunteers on Friday – with permission from the city – painted “Black Lives Matter” on the street leading to the White House in Washington DC.
The president’s latest remarks came as the US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, admitted there was “much work to be done” in the fight against racism.
In an open letter to the public, he said: “British friends, the US Embassy in London is united with the British public in grief over the tragic death of Mr George Floyd, which deserves universal condemnation.
“We offer our deepest condolences to the Floyd family. His death is a reminder that as a nation we must do more to fight racism and injustice.
“America is committed to the ideal that all people have the inalienable right to justice, liberty and equality. It is through peaceful protests that injustice is most successfully addressed.
“We welcome this exercise of free speech which contributes to constructive dialogue, education and change. There remains much work to be done. Please stand with us, as global citizens, to ensure the promise of a better future.”