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Perry: Systemic racism isn't real, Black deaths sensationalized

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

Systemic racism doesn't exist and there is "more to the story" of George Floyd's death, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry said Wednesday in the midst of nationwide racial unrest over the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police.

Speaking at a 10th Congressional District forum at the Rotary Club of York in Spring Garden Township, the Carroll Township Republican also claimed that police killings of Black people has been sensationalized. 

"What is systemic? That means there's a system of. If there's a system, someone had to create that system," Perry said, adding that racism is still horrific. "Someone is operating and nurturing the system to keep it going. I don't know who in our country is doing that."

U.S. Representative Scott Perry (R-Pa. 10) speaks to reporters after participating in a Rotary Club of York candidate forum at the Country Club of York Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. He is seeking reelection for the 10th Congressional seat. His opponent, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, will be featured at a similar Oct. 7 event. Bill Kalina photo

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Perry's comments came a day after President Donald Trump interjected when two Black pastors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, were asked whether police violence was a systemic issue, CNN reported. 

In some instances, Perry's language Wednesday appeared to closely mirror Trump's choice of words from the day prior.

"That belies the fact we had a war among the United States over that issue to cleanse our country of that issue," he added, referencing the Civil War.

Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation remained for decades after the war, and it wasn't until the 1960s that the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were signed into law.

The York NAACP did not immediately respond to inquiries for comment.

Multiple recent academic studies and analyses, including one published this year by The Washington Post, have concluded Black people in the U.S. are exponentially more likely to be killed by police officers than whites. 

On Aug. 23, Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer. The shooting was one of multiple incidents this year that sparked nationwide protests.

That included one demonstration in Kenosha, where Kyle Rittenhouse, an armed, white 17-year-old, shot and killed two protesters and wounded another.

U.S. Representative Scott Perry (R-Pa. 10) speaks to reporters after participating in a Rotary Club of York candidate forum at the Country Club of York Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. He is seeking reelection for the 10th Congressional seat. His opponent, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, will be featured at a similar Oct. 7 event. Bill Kalina photo

"I don't believe that (police violence is a systemic issue)," Trump said Tuesday during his visit to Kenosha. "I think the police do an incredible job, and I think you do have some bad apples."

Perry echoed the "bad apples" talking point when speaking Wednesday, saying you "can't throw the whole bushel out" because of one bad officer.

In addition, when asked what repeated killings of Black people at the hands of police signifies, if not systemic racism, Perry said it was a matter of sensationalism run amok.

"The propensity, the occurrence of these events, is actually going down," Perry said. "It's the sensationalism of these events is what's changed."

The four-term Republican on Wednesday also urged people to be skeptical of incidents of Black people being killed at the hands of police, specifically referencing George Floyd.

Floyd's death on May 25 may be considered the biggest rallying cry for racial justice this year. The Black man died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for about eight minutes.

"Apparently, there is more to the story, if you look at the pathologist report," Perry said, referencing how Floyd had reportedly had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system at the time of his encounter with police.

The drugs, however, were not listed as a cause of death. The death has been ruled a homicide, NPR reported.

Perry's appearance at the Rotary Club of York was one of two forums to be held for the 10th Congressional District race, which is expected to be one of the most competitive in the nation.

Perry's Democratic challenger in November's election, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, quickly took aim at Perry following the  recent comments, calling Floyd's death a "national tragedy."

"Comments like these from Congressman Perry show just how out of touch he is with our community, and why he is no longer fit to lead," DePasquale said. "Instead of denying that racism exists, we need to come together as one nation to stop it."

DePasquale is slated to speak at a similar event at the Rotary Club of York on Oct. 7. 

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.