COLORADO SPRINGS — As protests continue in North Carolina and Oklahoma following two separate officer-involved shootings of black men, vice presidential candidate Mike Pence focused on support for law enforcement in a town hall in the shadow of Pikes Peak.
The Indiana governor and running mate of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump touted the campaign’s endorsement from the nation’s largest police union. He vowed a Trump administration would bring “law and order” to communities across the country.
“Donald Trump will never forget the men and women who serve in law enforcement at every level in this nation or those who have worn the uniform or are wearing the uniform,” Pence said about three minutes into his speech 45 days before the Nov. 8 election.
Pence had fashioned the event as a mid-afternoon town hall in the Hillside Community Center to a crowd of more than a hundred. Before he got to the questions, he said he had some things to get off his chest.
“It’s really heartbreaking news. Second night in a row of riots in beautiful cities,” Pence said. While there have been riots in Charlotte, protests have so far remained peaceful in Tulsa.
“Let me be clear,” he continued in a sober tone from a podium flanked by flags. “Donald Trump and I and every American, we stand by the right of every citizen in this country to peacefully assemble and protest and to demonstrate and to stand up for their convictions. That’s what a free and open society is all about. But there’s no right to engage in violence.”
And Pence, whose uncle was a police officer, called any loss of life, in any circumstance, a tragedy. He said any officer-involved shooting deserves thorough, transparent investigations.
But he also said he believed police around the country are getting a bad rap from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Sadly, our opponent once again refers to what she calls the institutional racism in law enforcement,” Pence said. “We’ve heard this week, again, the systemic racism in law enforcement in this country.”
His voice rising, Pence said he and Trump believe police “are not a force for racism in America,” but “a force for good,” deserving support and respect.
“I want to promise you, as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, a President Donald Trump will support our law enforcement officers at every level,” he said. “We will see to it that they have the resources and the tools to do their job.”
Pence didn’t mention it, but in Colorado Springs the police department recently disbanded its gang unit indefinitely because of critical staffing shortages, and also reduced house calls. A recent headline in the daily newspaper in Colorado’s second-largest city read “Major changes for Colorado Springs police as cops say they don’t feel safe.”
Following the event, Ed Jones, a black former GOP county commissioner and state senator from the Springs area who supports Trump, said he believes the reason African Americans in the U.S. might find themselves on the other end of a police officer’s gun is because they haven’t handled themselves properly during police interactions. A lot of that, he said, is because “they don’t comply.”
“I just cannot believe, there’s an officer there,” Jones said pointing toward a man in a uniform working the event, “that he wakes up every morning and says ‘I’ve got to go out and shoot a black guy’— and that’s the narrative that the liberals give.”
Just today, after reviewing camera footage, the district attorney in Tulsa, Oklahoma, charged the officer who shot Terence Crutcher, a black 40-year-old motorist, with first-degree manslaughter after she responded to a vehicle stopped in the middle of a road and shot Crutcher to death as police helicopter cameras and dashboard cameras rolled.
In Charlotte, the police chief there has said video is not “definitive” in the officer-involved shooting of Keith Scott, a 43-year-old black man who was killed while officers were serving a warrant on someone else. Police said Scott had a gun. His family says it was a book.