Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton met on Thursday in New York with leading law enforcement officers from around the country, including from some of its largest cities, for a discussion about policing and the racial tensions that have been exposed by high-profile killings in recent years.
"It's obvious that recent events — from Dallas and Baton Rouge to Milwaukee and across the country — underscore how difficult and important the work is ahead of us to repair the bonds of trust and respect between our police officers and our communities," Clinton said, before dismissing reporters from the room. "We have to be clear-eyed about the challenges we face. We can't ignore them, and certainly we must not inflame them."
The closed-door session comes at a sensitive time in relations between police and the communities they protect, as officers have recently been killed in targeted incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge. At the same time, several high-profile police shootings of African Americans have also roiled the nation this summer, including this week in Milwaukee.
Clinton’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump, has cast himself as the “law and order” candidate in the race, including during a speech Tuesday in the predominantly white city of West Bend, Wis., about an hour outside of Milwaukee, which he said Clinton is "against the police." Before that event, and again on Thursday in Statesville, N.C., he met with a group of police officers.
"I'm on your side a thousand percent," Trump said during the meeting with a Fraternal Order of Police chapter on Thursday.
Clinton has sought to walk a narrower line, expressing support for law enforcement but also sympathizing with the concerns of Black Lives Matter activists and others outraged by police conduct that has led to the deaths of African American citizens.
"I want to support them — our police officers — with the resources they need to do their jobs," Clinton said. "I believe supporting our police officers and improving policing go hand in hand. Everyone is safer when there is respect for the law and when everyone is respected by the law."
In a speech to a gathering of the NAACP last month in the immediate aftermath of the shootings that killed three officers in Baton Rouge, Clinton said “this madness has to stop,” declaring that those who take aim at police “take aim at all of us.”
She then suggested that the best way to honor fallen police is to work to improve policing — with the aim of avoiding the deaths of African Americans in police custody — and to take steps to reduce gun violence.
On Thursday, Clinton added that she believes there is an opportunity to work together to address "legitimate questions" in order to " keep our communities safe, to protect lives and property while also respecting every single American."
Thursday’s meeting has been in the works for several weeks, a Clinton aide said, and included eight law enforcement leaders from cities of different sizes: Charles Beck, chief in Los Angeles; Bill Bratton, commissioner in New York; James O’Neill, chief in New York; Chris Magnus, chief in Tucson; Kathleen O’Toole, chief in Seattle; Charles Ramsey, former commissioner in Philadelphia and former chief in D.C.; J. Scott Thomson, chief in Camden County, N.J.; and Lupe Valdez, sheriff in Dallas County.
The officials present at the meeting with Clinton represent a group of about 200 current and former police leaders, prosecutors and attorney generals from across the country who advocate for policies that reduce crime and incarceration.
Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration also recently sent a letter to Clinton and Trump asking both candidates to advocate for policies that reduce crime and imprisonment.
The Clinton aide said Thursday's gathering built on smaller sessions Clinton and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, have had as candidates, as well as on Clinton's past work.
This post has been updated.