PITTSBURGH (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seeking to show law-and-order toughness along with empathy for African-Americans as he criticizes violent protests stemming from another fatal police shooting of a black man.
His Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, was behind closed doors as she prepared for their initial debate and did not address on Thursday the escalating racial tensions in Charlotte, North Carolina. The city was under a midnight curfew after two previous nights of chaotic protests that led to one death as well as injuries, arrests and vandalism.
Trump has spent the last several weeks asking black Americans for their support and asserting that President Barack Obama has failed the black community, but those appeals have been undermined at times. On Thursday, the Trump campaign accepted the resignation of an Ohio volunteer, Mahoning County chair Kathy Miller, who told the Guardian newspaper, "I don't think there was any racism until Obama got elected."
Trump himself sent a mixed and at times unclear message that could rankle African-Americans even as he called for a nation united in "the spirit of togetherness."
"The rioting in our streets is a threat to all peaceful citizens and it must be ended and ended now," the New York businessman declared at a rally in suburban Philadelphia on Thursday night. He added: "The main victims of these violent demonstrations are law-abiding African-Americans who live in these communities and only want to raise their children in safety and peace."
Earlier in the day, however, Trump seemed to suggest that protesters outraged by the police shootings of black men were under the influence of drugs.
"I will stop the drugs from flowing into our country and poisoning our youth and many other people," he said during an appearance at an energy conference in Pittsburgh. He added, "And if you're not aware, drugs are a very, very big factor in what you're watching on television at night."
Trump's campaign said he was referring to news reports about the recent increase in drug-related deaths, not the protests seen on cable news the last few nights.
On Wednesday, Trump seemed to call for the national expansion of "stop-and-frisk," a police tactic that has been condemned as racial profiling. He clarified on Thursday that he had been referring only to murder-plagued Chicago.
Clinton has made curbing gun violence and police brutality central to her candidacy. She said Wednesday that the shooting in North Carolina and a fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had added two more names "to a long list of African-Americans killed by police officers. It's unbearable and it needs to become intolerable." The Tulsa officer has since been charged with first-degree manslaughter.
At his evening rally Thursday, Trump accused Clinton of supporting — "with a nod" — "the narrative of cops as a racist force in our society."
"Those peddling the narrative ... share directly in the responsibility for the unrest that is afflicting our country and hurting those who have really the very least," he said.
As she prepared for their debate Monday night, Clinton used humor to poke at her opponent by appearing on comic Zach Galifianakis' web program, "Between Two Ferns." The comedian asked her what Trump might wear.
"I assume he'll wear that red power tie," Clinton said.
Galifianakis responded, "Or maybe like a white power tie."
"That's even more appropriate, Clinton said
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