PITTSBURGH — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday condemned violent protesters and called for national unity in the wake of violent protests in Charlotte, but did not directly confront concerns about systemic discriminatory policing nationwide.
“We honor and recognize the right for all Americans to peacefully assemble, protest and demonstrate. But there is no right to engage in violent disruption or to threaten the public safety and peace of others,” Trump said during lengthy remarks on the protests in Charlotte, which came at the beginning of a speech on energy policy.
The GOP presidential candidate bemoaned the unrest and said that such disruption disproportionately hurts African Americans “who live in these communities where the crime is so rampant.” He added his belief that drugs are a "very, very big factor in what you’re watching on television at night."
“For every one violent protester, there are thousands of moms and dads and kids in that same community who just want to be able to sleep — really to sleep safely at night. To be able to walk on the streets. To be able to go to the grocery store,” he said.
Trump said that the United States needs more effective policing and more community engagement in order to resolve the tensions on display in Charlotte. Though he did not address directly widespread concerns over discriminatory policing, he said that police officers need to be properly trained and should respect “all members of the public.”
“Police are entrusted with immense responsibility, and we must do everything we can to ensure that they are properly trained, that they respect all members of the public, and that any wrongdoing is always and it will be by them vigorously addressed. Has to be,” Trump said.
He did not mention the controversial stop-and-frisk policing tactic, which empowers police officers to stop and search individuals they suspect have committed crimes or are preparing to do so. But he praised former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to curb crime in the city during his tenure, which he has claimed was in large part due to the stop-and-frisk policy. Trump in recent days has praised stop-and-frisk and has recommended expanding it as part of national effort to reduce crime.
Critics of stop-and-frisk have said such measures discriminate against minorities. Whether the policy itself led to reduced crime in New York has been disputed.
Trump praised police officers as a group, telling the audience that he believes Americans should show them more support and gratitude, citing at one point the police killings in Dallas earlier this year as the threat law enforcement officers face on the job.
“Our men and women in blue, and you know this, the men and women in blue need your support. They need your thanks, and they need your gratitude,” he said. “They are the lines separating civilians and civilization from total chaos. They're also the front lines of defense on the war on terror."