(CN) – A Republican congressman whose district includes portions of Charlotte, N.C., told an interviewer Thursday night that the motivation for protests that have rocked the city since a police officer killed an unarmed black man this week is that the protesters hate white people.
“The grievance in their minds — the animus, the anger — they hate white people, because white people are successful and they’re not,” U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., told “BBC Newsnight” during an interview about the unrest in Charlotte.
“It is a welfare state,” he added. “We have spent trillions of dollars on welfare, and we’ve put people in bondage, so they can’t be all that they’re capable of being.”
Pittenger’s comments came on a night of largely peaceful demonstrations after Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts reversed her earlier position and imposed a curfew in the city that be in effect from midnight until 6 a.m. each day that the state of emergency declared by the governor continues.
Gathering under the watchful eye of members of the National Guard and law enforcement, demonstrators chanted “release the tape” and “we want the tape” Thursday night while briefly blocking an intersection near Bank of America headquarters.
The ACLU, black community leaders and the protesters have all demanded the release of dashboard and bodycam footage recorded during the incident in which Keith Lamont Scott died Tuesday afternoon.
The police claim Scott had a gun and ignored demands he drop it before he was shot; the dead man’s family says he was only reading a book while waiting to pick up his son at a bus stop.
Scott’s family was shown the footage of his fatal shooting Thursday and demanded that police release it to the public.
But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said releasing the footage of Scott’s killing could undermine the investigation.
He told reporters the video will be made public when he believes there is a “compelling reason” to do so.
Thursday night, several protestors also gathered near the city government center, and others walked onto Interstate-85 where it passes through the city. But the conflicts that accompanies protests Tuesday and Wednesday night were markedly absent.
Police Capt. Mike Campagna told reporters that officers would not seek to arrest curfew violators as long as they were peaceful.
The comments by Pittenger, who is serving his second term in Congress and represents North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, didn’t appear to incite any more activity on the streets of Charlotte, but they blew up the Twitterspere.
State Rep. Grier Martin III, a Democrat who represents northern Raleigh in the General Assembly called Pittenger’s comments ” the most ignorant statements I have ever heard.”
He also said he was “ashamed to have served with this fool” when Pittenger himself was a state House member.
State Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican member of the General Assembly, responded to Martin, saying he shared his Democratic colleague’s sentiments.
“I’m afraid it wasn’t a misquote,” McGrady said.
North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds weighed in with a statement to The Washington Post, calling Pittenger’s comments “inexcusable.”
“At a time when we need calm and understanding while we learn more about the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Congressman Pittenger is fanning the flames of hate with his racist rhetoric.” Reynolds said.
“Congressman Pittenger must apologize, and Gov. [Pat] McCrory and every Republican leader in this state should denounce this hateful rhetoric immediately,” Reynolds said.
Pittenger later took to Twitter himself to try and walk back his controversial statements.
“What is taking place in my hometown breaks my heart. Today, my anguish led me to respond to a reporter’s question in a way that I regret,” he said, adding latter, “My answer to BBC doesn’t reflect who I am. I was quoting statements made by angry protesters last night on national TV. Not my intent.”
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