US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden clashed over the issue of race in America in the first presidential debate wherein the Republican leader hesitated to condemn white supremacists. During the debate in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump, "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down?"
"I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not the right wing," Trump replied. “I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.” When pressed further, he said, "Give me a name", to which Biden chimed in, "Proud Boys", referring to a far-right outfit that has been designated as a hate group by the nonprofit legal advocacy organisation, Southern Poverty Law Centre.
"Proud Boys -- Stand back, stand by," Trump responded and then moved attention to the left-wing anti-fascist movement known as Antifa. "Somebody has got to do something about Antifa and the left because this isn't a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem," he said. Biden alleged that Trump has used everything as a "dog whistle" to try to generate racist hatred and division.
"This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division. This is a man who in fact--you talk about helping African Americans, one in one thousand African Americans has been killed because of the coronavirus. And if he doesn't do something quickly, by the end of the year one in 500 will have been killed, one in 500 African Americans,” he said.
"This man is the saviour of African Americans? This man care at all? This man's done virtually nothing...You have to look at what he did. And what he did has been disastrous for the African-American community,” Biden charged. Defending his record as president, Trump attacked Biden for his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill. "I'm letting people out of jail now," Trump said to Biden. "You've treated the black community as bad as anyone in the country. You called them superpredators and you've called them worse than that." “I never said that,” Biden responded.
Biden and Trump were responding to questions on why voters should trust them rather than their opponents to deal with the race issues facing the US. “It's about equity and equality. It's about decency. It's about the Constitution. And we have never walked away from trying to require equity for everyone, equality for the whole of America, but we've never accomplished it. But we've never walked away from it like he has done,” Biden said.
“A young woman got killed. And they asked the president what he thought. He said there were very fine people on both sides. No president's ever said anything,” he said.
Biden was referring to Trump's remark that there were good people “on both sides” after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to the death of a counter-protester.
The former vice president was also critical of Trump’s handling of the events after the death of African-American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. “When Mr Floyd was killed, there was a peaceful protest in front of the White House. What did he do? He came out of his bunker, had the military do -- use teargas on them so he could walk across to a church and hold the Bible. And then what happened after that? The bishop of that very church said it was a disgrace. The general who was with him said all he ever wants to do is divide people, not unite people at all,” Biden alleged.
Hitting back, Trump said, "If you look at the polls, I'm doing better than any Republican has done in a long time, because they saw what you did. You called them super predators and you've called them worse than that, because you look back at your testimony over the years. You called them a lot worse than that."
"As far as the church is concerned and as far as the generals are concerned, we just got the support of 200-250 military leaders and generals, total support. Law enforcement, almost every law enforcement group in the US; I have Florida, I have Texas, I have Ohio, I have every--excuse me, Portland, the sheriff just came out today and he said I support President Trump," he asserted. Trump also accused Biden of abandoning the nation's law enforcement.
“You can't even say the word 'law enforcement' because if you say those words you're going to lose all of your radical-left supporters. And why aren't you saying those words, Joe?...Because you know what, if they call us in Portland, we would put out the fire and a half an hour. But they won't do it because they're run by radical-left Democrats," he said.
The US police departments have faced intense scrutiny following the shooting of several Black Americans at the hands of white police officers, sparking a movement to “defund the police” supported by many prominent Democratic lawmakers.