Donald Trump says he believes relations between police and the nation's African-American community are “far worse” than people think, predicting that protests against police violence that followed last week's slaying of five police officers in Dallas “might be just the beginning for this summer.”
In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, the presumptive GOP nominee struck a balance between the law-and-order rhetoric he has espoused during his campaign and an appreciation for the concerns held by African-Americans nationwide about the conduct of police.
Trump suggested that a lack of training for officers might be at least partially to blame for the two police shootings that led to last Thursday's protest in Dallas, where a lone gunman killed five in an act of vengeance against white officers. At the same time, Trump denounced the name of the Black Lives Matter movement as “a very divisive term.”
The interview followed a speech on veterans issues in which Trump declared, “I am the law and order candidate,” an echo of Richard Nixon's response to protest violence that broke out in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Like Trump, Nixon was a Republican running for president at the time.
“It's time for our hostility against our police, and against all members of law enforcement, to end, and end immediately, right now,” Trump said during his speech, comparing anti-police sentiment to the harassment faced by returning veterans in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
But Trump also referenced the “tragic deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota” during his event, saying they made clear that “a lot of work” must be done to ensure all Americans feel their safety is being protected.
Trump said he was disturbed by the images of the killings of Alton Sterling, who was shot by police last Tuesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after being pinned to the pavement by two officers. The altercation was captured on cell phone video.
The following day, Philando Castile was fatally shot by an officer in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, an act livestreamed on Facebook by his girlfriend.
“I thought they were horrible, horrible to witness,” Trump said. “Whether that's a lack of training or whatever, but I thought they were two incidents that were absolutely horrible to witness. At the same time, our country is losing its spirit. African-Americans are absolutely losing their spirit.”
Trump framed that issue in largely economic terms, blaming the mood of the nation's black community on high unemployment and low wages.
“Jobs can solve so many problems,” he said. “And we're going to open our country up and we're going to be a huge jobs producer again instead of having terrible jobs.”
“Our good jobs are going away, they're going away from this country,” he added. “We're going to open our country up again for great jobs where people can make terrific livings and be happy.”
Asked specifically what he would say to African-Americans who feel targeted by police because of their race, Trump said, “We have to talk to 'em and we have to build up the spirt.”
He added: “We have to talk with the police. And we have to get people to really get along. People are not getting along in this country. We are in a divided country.”
Trump went on to predict the problem would only grow worse.
“When President Obama said the other day that he doesn't think it's as bad as people think, I think it's far worse and certainly far worse than he believes it is,” Trump said. “We are in a divided nation. I looked two nights ago and you were having trouble in 11 different cities, big, big trouble. And the press actually plays it down.”
“I mean, you were having big, big trouble in many cities. And I think that might be just the beginning for this summer.”
Trump also had harsh words for the Black Lives Matters movement, which has organized some of the protests. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump adviser, labeled the group “inherently racist” over the weekend in an interview with CBS News.
“When you say black lives matter, that's inherently racist,” Giuliani said. “Black lives matter. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. That's anti-American and it's racist.”
Asked whether he agreed with Giuliani's assessment, Trump said the group's name is “divisive.”
“A lot of people agree with that. A lot of people feel that it is inherently racist. And it's a very divisive term,” he said. “Because all lives matter. It's a very, very divisive term.”
Trump added that has heard some Black Lives Matter activists say “horrible, horrible things about police and about others.”
“And certainly if they're going to allow that to go along rhetorically, this is not a good thing for our country,” he said.