Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE described himself on Wednesday as “troubled” by the killing of an unarmed black man in Oklahoma and said of the police officer who shot Terence Crutcher, “I don’t know what she was thinking.”
The comments were startling coming from Trump, who has often professed vigorous support for law enforcement while portraying himself as the “law and order” candidate in the presidential race. He received the endorsement of a major police union last week.
But his remarks also came amid an apparent effort by the Republican nominee to improve his standing with black voters. Trump’s unpopularity with African-Americans has been staggering, even by the standards of past Republican presidential candidates who have lost the black vote by very wide margins.
Last month, the data site FiveThirtyEight noted two major polls in which Trump was running in fourth place among black voters, behind Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty MORE, Libertarian Party nominee Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonBiden broadened Democratic base, cut into Trump coalition: study New Mexico lawmakers send recreational marijuana bills to governor Judge throws out murder convictions, releases men jailed for 24 years MORE and Green Party nominee Jill Stein. A survey from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, indicated Trump was viewed favorably by zero percent of African-Americans.
On Wednesday, Trump sought to climb out from those historic lows, appearing at a black church in Cleveland with boxing promoter Don King, former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson and erstwhile “Apprentice” star Omarosa Manigault.
Referring to the killing of Crutcher, Trump commented: “I watched the shooting, in part, in Tulsa, and that man was hands up. That man went to the car, hands up, put his hands on the car.
“To me, it looked like he did everything you’re supposed to do,” Trump added. “The young officer — I don’t know what she was thinking. But I’m very, very troubled by that.”
Referring to the female police officer who shot Crutcher, Trump added: “Did she get scared? Was she choking? What happened? People that do that — maybe they can’t be doing what they’re doing.”
The remarks met with a chilly response from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which had backed Trump in glowing terms last week after not endorsing any candidate in the 2012 presidential election.
FOP Executive Director Jim Pasco said, “We would ask that in this case, as in the case of any shooting by an officer, people reserve judgment until a full investigation has been completed and the findings evaluated.”
He did not respond to questions about his organization’s support of Trump.
The broader effort by Trump to remedy his low popularity in the black community has hit other rough patches. The most recent also came on Wednesday, when he advocated a nationwide “stop-and-frisk” policy as a way to bring down crime rates in black communities.
The policy in its most basic form gives police officers the right to search citizens at will, and it is deeply unpopular in the black community. The New York Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk was declared unconstitutional in 2013. The judge presiding over the case described it as a “policy of indirect racial profiling.”
Trump advocated for the practice while appearing at a town hall event focused on African-American issues, to be televised Wednesday evening on Fox News.
During the show, Trump again repeated his criticism of police conduct in the Oklahoma shooting, saying of the victim, “He was doing everything he was supposed to do.” He also suggested that charges that he is racist come from opponents who are worried he is on his way to winning the election.
“The one thing I see is that when you start to win ... they have nothing to say. And they can’t stop you. They always start using the racist word. And it’s a very interesting phenomenon, but the word racist comes out. And that means that you’re winning and that’s their last chance.”
On Tuesday, Trump drew criticism — and some mockery — for saying that black communities “are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before — ever, ever, ever.” Critics asserted that the remark made little historical sense given slavery and the Jim Crow era.
Last month, Trump’s comparisons of black neighborhoods to “war zones” and his suggestion that African-American voters should back him because they have nothing to lose also drew criticism.
During his Wednesday event in Cleveland, King predicted Trump would be elected and “fight for all the rights of the people.”
But so far the polling evidence suggests Trump has a long way to go before more black voters hold that view.
Jessie Hellman contributed.