Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker said Wednesday he was alarmed by the "disturbing trend of police officers being murdered on the job" and by the "rise in anti-police rhetoric" that has accompanied President Obama's time in office.
Walker wrote that the murders of a sheriff's deputy in Texas last week and a lieutenant police officer in Illinois this week are part of a "serious problem," and the United State must do more to protect its law enforcement officers. Walker, who is governor of Wisconsin, is in Texas this week for fundraisers and campaign events. AshLee Strong, a campaign spokeswoman, said Walker does not blame Obama for these deaths.
"We need to change the tone in America from chants and rallies that fixate on racial division," Walker wrote, in an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged after the killing of a black teenager by a white police officer in Missouri last year, "and instead follow the example of the families of the victims of the Charleston shooting, who showed us the best path forward is through unity. As president, that’s what I’m going to do to make us a united America once again."
Walker isn't the first Republican to accuse Obama of inflaming racial tensions and not fully appreciating law enforcement officers. Conservative pundits have grown increasingly critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, which recently received a resolution of solidarity from the Democratic National Committee. The criticism, including attacks from the GOP's presidential candidates, has escalated following the murders of Texas Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth on Friday night and Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz in Illinois on Tuesday. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said in New Hampshire on Monday that the Obama administration's response to recent protests in Missouri and Maryland has been "to vilify law enforcement" and that the president has "inflamed racial tensions." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has suggested that the movement rename itself "All Lives Matter" or "Innocent Lives Matter" because "commandeering the microphone and bullying people and pushing people out of the way, I think really isn't a way to get their message across."
Presidential hopefuls from both parties have struggled to discuss the issues raised by Black Lives Matter activists. On Aug. 21, Walker was asked if he would meet with representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement, and he answered: "Who knows who that is?"
"I meet with voters. Who knows who that is," Walker said, according to CNN. "It's the same way as saying we meet with the tea party. Who is 'the tea party'? There's hundreds of thousands of people."
When pressed on the question of if he would meet with leaders of the movement, Walker responded: "That is a ridiculous question. I'm going to talk to voters. It's a ridiculous question."
On the campaign trail, Walker occasionally meets voters who ask about police brutality and police-involved shootings, and he has repeatedly said officers need proper training and must be held accountable when they overstep their authority, two points he reiterated in his column, along with mentioning that Wisconsin requires an independent investigation when a suspect dies in police custody. In these answers, Walker often mentions Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., a regular cable news guest and prolific tweeter who has become an outspoken defender of police officers and critic of protesters. He has also suggested that violence could be reduced if families were stronger, and fathers were more involved with their children's lives.
While Walker has long criticized the divisive discussions that can emerge following a shooting, his column Wednesday provided his sharpest critique yet of Obama's role in those conversations.
"This isn’t the America I grew up in or that I want my children to grow up in," Walker wrote. "When the very people responsible for keeping us safe are targeted because they are law enforcement officials, we have a serious problem."
David Weigel and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.