Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick confronted President Barack Obama over the way he has responded to recent police-involved shootings, urging him to be careful that he is not "too quick to condemn the police without due process until the facts are known."
Obama dismissed the comments, saying he relies on law enforcement "to protect me and my family just like everybody else does" and has spoken out repeatedly in support of police.
During the tense exchange, which came during a Thursday night town hall meeting televised on ABC and ESPN, Patrick told Obama that his "words matter" when he responded to the recent string of shootings by police.
"I'm concerned that police officers across the country, they know you support law enforcement of course, but do they really in their heart feel like you're doing everything you can to protect their lives?" asked the Republican who has clashed previously with the Obama administration. "Yesterday you had meetings at the White House and afterwards you said that the tension between the police and between black America is only going to get worse."
The meeting followed the deaths of five Dallas police officers, gunned down at the end of an otherwise peaceful protest of the police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. Patrick called the protesters "hypocrites" for relying on the police for protection once the single gunman began firing on the officers though later said he might have used the wrong word to describe them.
Obama told Patrick that he had been unequivocal in condemning rhetoric directed at police officers, beginning with the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
"I think, lieutenant governor, you'd have to find any message that did not include a very strong support for law enforcement in all my utterances dating back to Ferguson," the president said.
"So I appreciate the sentiment," Obama added. "I think it's already been expressed. But I'll be happy to send it to you in case you missed it."
Obama also said that data showed a disparity in how police treat white people and people of color — an inequity not good for building trust and not good for police officers either, he said.
"We have to address that honestly," he said. "But I think that the one thing that all of us need to do, you and me, is to make sure that we don't pretend as if there aren't potential problems in how police and certain communities interact and that when we raise those issues or people raise those issues that the perception is somehow that that's anti-police."
Patrick asked the president to light the White House with blue in honor of the police, a request the White House has denied.
Among the others who questioned Obama was Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of 32-year-old Philando Castile, the man killed by police in Minnesota. Reynolds, who livestreamed what followed his shooting on Facebook, said she was scared for her daughter's future and asked the president remotely, "What do we do?"
Obama said it was important for officers to know the community they were protecting and to undergo training to avoid "implicit biases."
"We all carry around with us some assumptions about other people," he said, one of which is often that black men are dangerous.
After the taping of the meeting in a Washington, D.C., theater, the daughter of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by police officers on Staten Island in 2014, began shouting when her question was not taken.
"That's what I have to do?" Erica Garner asked. "A black person has to yell to be heard?"
Garner was able to speak with Obama afterward, according to ABC and the White House.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.