Donald Trump delivered an unexpected pitch to African American voters during a speech on law enforcement Tuesday evening in West Bend, Wisconsin, accusing his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, of bigotry and claiming that more aggressive policing will make black communities safer.
"The war on our police must end and it must end now," Trump said, amid heightened racial tensions and violence in nearby Milwaukee over the fatal police shooting of a black suspect.
The Republican nominee said that anti-police critics have made police officers' jobs more difficult, which he said has come at the expense of innocent victims of crime. He called the "violence, riots and destruction" in Milwaukee that have emerged in recent days an "assault" on the rights of American citizens to live in peace.
"The main victims of these riots are law-abiding African American citizens living in these neighborhoods," Trump said. "It's their job, it's their homes, it's their schools and communities which will suffer the most as a result. There's no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct for anyone."
Trump – speaking directly to African American voters, though the overwhelming majority of his audience was white – accused Clinton and the Democratic Party of taking advantage of black voters. "The Democratic Party," he said, "has failed and betrayed the African American community."
Polls show Trump is extremely unpopular among minority voters, an enormous electoral liability for the candidate. His incendiary comments about Muslims, Mexicans and the Black Lives Matter movement have helped propel Clinton to wide leads in several key battleground states even as Trump continues enjoying strength among white voters.
Trump's own campaign rallies have at times featured violent clashes. This spring, amid heightened tensions over his controversial immigration proposals, several physical confrontations and assaults were caught on camera. The altercations often carried uncomfortable racial components; while many of the protesters were black or Hispanic, the wide majority of attendees at Trump's rallies are white.
During his speech, Trump said that anti-police critics have made police officers' jobs more difficult and have come at the expense of innocent victims of crime. He said that respect for the rule of law must be upheld. He added later that in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Baltimore unrest was fomented by false facts distributed by anti-police critics, though he did not detail what facts he was referencing.
"Those peddling the narrative of cops as a racist force in our society, a narrative supported with a nod by my opponent, share directly in the responsibility for the unrest in Milwaukee and many other places within our country," Trump said. "They have fostered the dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America."
Trump – who ad libbed at times but largely read the prepared remarks from a teleprompter – began his speech by thanking law enforcement officers for their service "in difficult, difficult, difficult times." He returned repeatedly to claims that violent crime has increased in American cities and said that the key to restoring safety in black communities is "more law enforcement, more community engagement, more effective policing."
At one point, Trump promised that he would break up gangs by supporting more police in communities, pointing to former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani as an example of effective city management.
"Good policing saves lives," Trump said.
Trump briefly met with veterans and police officers Tuesday afternoon during a campaign stop at the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center in Milwaukee, including with Sheriff David Clarke and Sheriff's Inspector Edward Bailey. Clarke has been extremely critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Seeking to paint a contrast between himself and Clinton, Trump said that she would "rather protect the offender than the victim" and accused her and the Democratic Party of blocking policies that would keep people safe. He said that Clinton's policies have contributed to poverty and have put led to the deterioration of inner cities.
In addition to law enforcement, Trump also spoke extensively about increasing economic opportunity for African Americans and working class voters.
But although his speech was at times directly targeted at black voters, he did not propose new specific policies. Instead, he spoke largely of the policies he has already advocated extensively on the campaign trail, including negotiating international trade deals that protect American workers.
"No community in this country has been hurt by Hillary Clinton's immigration and all of her policies than the African American community. And she considers them a guaranteed vote," he said. "Now she is proposing to print instant work permits for millions of illegal immigrants to come in and take everybody's job, including low income African Americans. Not right, not gonna happen."