CLEVELAND (Reuters) - U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, in remarks at an African-American church on Wednesday, praised “stop-and-frisk” policing methods that have aroused protests and successful legal challenges, for singling out minorities.
The anti-crime tactic in which police stop, question and search pedestrians for weapons or contraband, gained traction in New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now a top Trump supporter.
But opposition to the practice led police departments in New York, as well as Chicago and Newark, New Jersey, to agree to cut back on its use, in some cases submitting to outside monitoring and improving police training.
“I would do stop-and-frisk. I think you have to,” Trump said, according to excerpts of a Fox News “town hall” in Cleveland, after a listener asked what he would do to reduce crime in predominantly black communities across the nation.
“I see what’s going on here, I see what’s going on in Chicago, I think stop-and-frisk. In New York City it was so incredible, the way it worked,” he added.
Ending the practice in New York was a key plank of Democrat Bill de Blasio’s successful 2013 run for mayor.
As the race between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton tightens ahead of the Nov. 8 election, he has been reaching out to African-American voters, shown by opinion polls to largely favour Clinton.
Trump has portrayed himself as the “law-and-order candidate.” But Clinton has criticized many of his proposals as unconstitutional attacks on American freedoms.
Clinton’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s statement.
“Stop and frisk” had saved lives and reduced crime in New York City under Giuliani, the Trump campaign said in a statement.
“Mr. Trump believes that a locally tailored version of ‘stop and frisk’ should be used in Chicago to help reduce skyrocketing violence and make our Chicago safe again,” spokesman Jason Miller said.
Anger over police tactics has risen as their fatal encounters with African-Americans, many of them unarmed, have sparked protests and unrest across the country.
In his appeal to African-American voters, Trump has lamented the woes of black communities, asking those who traditionally vote Democratic to take a chance on him. But his often dire portrayals of their lives have left some black voters unmoved.
Connie Tucker, a pastor at Father Heart Ministries in Columbus, Ohio, said she liked policies that brought results, so if stop-and-frisk helped cut crime, she backed it.
But Tucker, who is white, said she sensed discomfort in the room at Trump’s remarks. “I felt like there was a pause,” she said.
Another attendee, Geoff Betts, 38, who is black, said he felt dismayed by Trump’s response.
Betts, a hair products distributor, said he was registered to vote as an independent and attended to learn how Trump would try to win over black voters.
He said he thought police unfairly discriminated against black citizens and that he opposed stop-and-frisk.
“We are victims,” he said, adding that he had walked out of the meeting. “I just couldn’t take it anymore, I had to go. I don’t think that Donald Trump gets it.”
Reporting by Emily Flitter, Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney and Clarence Fernandez