Trump’s language is a lot harsher when the attacker is an immigrant or person of color

"My administration is coordinating closely between federal and local officials to.... further investigate this animal who did this attacking."

President Donald Trump CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump labeled the Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight people in New York City as an “animal,” renewing the use of inflammatory remarks that he reserves for non-white killers.

“Our hearts break for them and we pledge to renew our resolve in their memory,” Trump said of the victims at the outset of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. “My administration is coordinating closely between federal and local officials to investigate the attack and to further investigate this animal who did this attacking.”

Trump then said the attacker should be held as an enemy combatant and sent to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The suspect in Tuesday afternoon’s deadly truck attack killed eight people and injured 11 people as he allegedly drove down a bike path in New York City. Hours later, it became known that Sayfullo Saipov, the accused driver of the vehicle, is Muslim and an immigrant. Saipov, a legal permanent resident from Uzbekistan, won the Diversity Visa Lottery and came to the country in 2010. Officials said the Islamic State likely influenced Saipov who was “radicalized domestically” once he arrived, although they have yet to determine whether there is any direct connection.

Trump also said he would ask Congress to close the Diversity Visa Lottery program, an immigration lottery system by which 50,000 people around the world annually undergo background checks to come to the United States through a legal process.

Trump’s label of Saipov as an “animal” appears to be more reactive than labels used for other acts of violence involving white killers. After Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured nearly 500 people in Las Vegas, Nevada in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Trump called him a “demented, sick individual” whose “wires were crossed pretty badly in his brain.” When James Alex Fields reportedly drove at high speeds into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia and killed Heather Heyer, Trump labeled him as a “disgrace” and “murderer.”

The president’s selective descriptor with the word “animal” to describe people of color was seen earlier this year. In July, Trump called on law enforcement to be “rough” with suspected immigrant gang members that he repeatedly described as “animals” terrorizing communities. He also made a point to say these criminal immigrants “slice” and “dice” innocent people.

Trump’s failure or slow condemnation of white killers stand in stark contrast to his descriptors of Saipov and the criminal street gang MS-13 as “animals.” And those statements have often emboldened bigotry and signaled support for white nationalism against Muslim Americans and immigrants. Last year, a survey found immigrants and Muslim students experienced greater levels of anxiety and bullying at school. Hate crimes rose nationally in 2016, up five percent from the previous year. And because of the president’s tacit support and often shocking tweets in response to attacks perpetrated by people of color, many of his followers have felt empowered to confront people of color to treat them in shockingly awful ways.