Republican candidate Ben CarsonBen CarsonRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party Sunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Government indoctrination, whether 'critical' or 'patriotic,' is wrong MORE, the only African-American running for president, toured Ferguson, Mo., on Friday, a city that has been racked by racial unrest since the fatal police shooting of a black teen last summer.
Retired neurosurgeon Carson had lunch with James Knowles III, the 35-year-old mayor, and later toured the city with Ferguson police. He also conducted a closed-door roundtable discussion with city officials, activists and citizens impacted by the riots that broke out in 2014 over the death of Michael Brown.
Notably, Carson did not meet with members of the Black Lives Matter movement, a protest group that has emerged this year to draw attention to police violence against African-American people.
Carson, who has been critical of the movement, said in a press conference on Friday that he hoped to meet with the group’s members at some point. However, he reiterated his stance that the activists are misguided.
“My beef with the Black Lives Matter movement is that they need to add a word,” Carson said. “That word is ‘all’ — all lives matter, including ones eradicated by abortion, and those eradicated on the streets every day by violence. We need be looking at all the factors that have kept the black community in a dependent position for decades.”
Black Lives Matter activists believe Carson's argument distracts from their efforts to draw attention to issues that have specifically plagued the black community.
Carson has focused heavily on racial issues in recent weeks. Last month, he visited Harlem, N.Y., where he met with local community leaders and put forth the message that liberal policies have failed urban minorities.
Carson’s supporters believe that as an African-American man who grew up in poverty in Detroit, he’s uniquely equipped to take the conservative message to a demographic that has been a Democratic stronghold for decades.
Still, much of Carson’s message on race is that there’s too much focus on it. On Friday, he said that “we need to deemphasize race.”
“I think that a lot of people perceive everything through racial eyes, but my point is that we don’t have to do that,” Carson said. “What we have to do instead is begin to see people as people.”
It’s the kind of broad and positive message that has so far helped propel Carson into the top tier of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination. He is firmly in second place in the race, trailing only front-runner Donald Trump.
Carson ignited a feud with Trump this week when he seemed to question the real estate mogul’s Christian faith.
Trump shot back, calling Carson “an OK doctor,” and accusing him of being “heavy into the world of abortion.” Carson is pro-life, but as a neurosurgeon, has in the past performed research using tissue from aborted fetuses.
On Friday, Carson was asked to respond to Trump’s attacks.
“The question is, do I want to respond to Donald Trump? The answer is no,” Carson said. “I really don’t. What I’ve discovered is that the media loves to stoke controversy and have people fighting like gladiators, and that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.”
Carson has the highest favorability rating of any of the Republican presidential candidates, and much of it is rooted in his nice-guy persona. He has said he will not attack the other candidates, and other than the understated dig at Trump’s faith this week, has largely stuck to that pledge.
Carson even passed on an opportunity to criticize President Obama, saying he wouldn’t comment on a question about how the president has handled racial issues.
However, Carson did criticize the administration for sending the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the Ferguson police department. A DOJ report found that officers in the city unfairly targeted black people for arrest.
“Some of the citizens here feel that on the balance, the DOJ’s involvement was more hurtful than helpful, that these things could be handled better at the local level, and have been handled at the local level,” Carson said.