Clinton On Police Murders: 'This Madness Has To Stop'

Jul 18, 2016
Originally published on July 19, 2016 12:36 pm

A day after three police officers were murdered in Baton Rouge, La., presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton denounced that and the recent attacks on police officers in Dallas, Texas.

"This madness has to stop. Watching the news from Baton Rouge yesterday, my heart broke. Not just for those officers and their grieving families, but for all of us," said Clinton before a meeting of African-American leaders at the NAACP's annual convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Between the assaults on police officers and two recent closely-watched deaths of African-American men at the hands of police, Clinton has sought to balance the concerns of multiple constituencies at once.

"Killing police officers is a terrible crime. That's why our laws treat this so seriously, because they represent the rule of law itself," said Clinton, who promised that, if elected, she would "bring the full weight of the law to bear" on those who attack the police.

While condemning the murders of police officers, Clinton also said Americans need to confront the country's history of racial bias.

"We white Americans need to do a better job of listening when African-Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers yu face every day," said Clinton.

250 miles away from Clinton's speech, Republicans were kicking off their convention in Cleveland with an opening night theme of "Make America Safe Again."

Clinton once again accused presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump of not being up to the job of president.

"We need a president who can help pull us together, not split us apart," said Clinton. "The Republican nominee for president will do the exact opposite."

Trump declined an opportunity to speak at the NAACP convention, a break with tradition from most recent election years when the nominees of both parties have spoken before the civil rights group's gathering.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

While the Republican convention got underway in Cleveland today, Hillary Clinton was 250 miles to the south in Cincinnati doing a little counter-programming. Among the events, she addressed the NAACP convention. There she weighed in on the killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge. NPR's Tamara Keith reports from the campaign trail.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton has always campaigned with the caution of someone who's already in office. The president of the United States can't really take sides in the wrenching national conversation about the targeted killing of police officers and police use of force against people of color, and neither did Clinton as she carefully threaded the divide before a friendly audience. She said the madness has to stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: Watching the news from Baton Rouge yesterday, my heart broke not just for those officers and their grieving families but for all of us.

KEITH: Clinton said the police represent the rule of law itself. Taking aim at them, she said, is taking aim at all of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: There can be no justification, no looking the other way. We all have to make sure and pray it ends.

KEITH: But then Clinton made a turn, acknowledging a reality that hung heavy in the convention center where she spoke. The theme of the NAACP convention this year is, our lives matter; our votes count.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: Many African-Americans fear the police. I can hear you.

KEITH: As she has since the earliest days of her campaign, Clinton called for changes in the criminal justice system. It's something she said she would start taking action on day one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: And you know what? When the 24-hour news cycle moves on, I won't.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

CLINTON: This is too important. This goes to the heart of who we are.

KEITH: This is far from the first time this campaign Clinton has found herself responding to a violent incident, intersecting open sores of American politics. And in her remarks at the NAACP, she went back to a familiar theme for her - listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: We white Americans need to do a better job of listening when African-Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers you face every day.

KEITH: Clinton got in a few digs at Donald Trump, prompting a standing ovation and a musical flourish from an organist when she said, he cannot become president. Donald Trump declined an invitation to speak at the NAACP convention, a break with past Republican presidential nominees.

But Clinton's primary focus, as it was two weeks ago after the Dallas attack, was on the idea of unity. She ended by quoting a Facebook post from Montrell Jackson, a black police officer killed in yesterday's ambush attack in Baton Rouge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: He went on, (reading) these are trying times. Please don't let hate infect your heart.

KEITH: Jackson's Facebook post ended, quote, "if you see me and need a hug or want a prayer, I've got you." Tamara Keith, NPR News, Cincinnati. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.