President Donald Trump said Thursday he would pursue an executive order to encourage police departments to meet "current professional standards for the use of force," while slamming Democrats for broadly branding police as the problem.
He also defended his calls on governors and mayors to aggressively quell violent protests that erupted across the country after the death of George Floyd, boasting, "We're dominating the street with compassion."
Trump offered few details about the yet-to-be-formalized order during a discussion on race relations and policing before a friendly audience in Dallas. The call for establishing a national use-of-force standard amounted to his first concrete proposal for police reform in response to the national outcry following Floyd's death in a violent encounter with Minneapolis police.
The president also acknowledged that law enforcement may have some "bad apples," but he said it is unfair to broadly paint police officers as bigots.
"We have to work together to confront bigotry and prejudice wherever they appear," Trump said. "But we'll make no progress and heal no wounds by falsely labeling tens of millions of decent Americans as racists or bigots. We have to get everybody together. We have to be on the same path."
The president said the nation also needs to bolster its efforts to confront its long-simmering racial relations problems by focusing on inequality, redoubling on his contention that solving economic issues is the fastest way to healing racial wounds.
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He said his administration would aggressively pursue economic development in minority communities, confront health care disparities by investing "substantial sums" in minority-serving medical institutions, and improve school choice options.
Trump made the comments in the city that has faced its own strained relationship between police and African American community in recent years.
In 2016, a sniper opened fire on police during a protest in downtown Dallas. The Army veteran fatally shot four Dallas police officers and one transit officer before authorities killed him using a robot-delivered bomb.
Last year, an officer was sentenced to a decade in prison for murder in the off-duty shooting of her neighbor. Amber Guyger killed Botham Jean in his home in September 2018. She later testified that after a long shift she mistook his apartment for her own and Jean, a 28-year-old accountant, for a burglar.
Notably, Dallas' mayor and three top law enforcement officials, all of whom are Black, weren't on hand for the roundtable discussion at the Dallas campus of Gateway Church.
Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall, Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown and Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot did not receive invitations to the event, according to their offices. Mayor Eric Johnson was invited but did not attend because of prior commitments, according to an aide.
A senior administration official who briefed reporters ahead of Trump's trip noted other law enforcement officials were in attendance but did not directly respond to a question about why the three officials weren't invited.
Trump filled the roundtable with police union officials and allies from the African American community, including a member of Black Voices for Trump -- many who spoke glowingly about the president.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have unveiled sweeping police reform legislation, including provisions to ban choke holds and limit legal protections for police. Congressional Republicans say they are also open to some reforms, including a national registry of use-of-force incidents so police officers cannot transfer between departments without public awareness of their records.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and senior adviser Jared Kushner have been discussing possible packages with GOP lawmakers, but it's unclear what the president himself would be willing to accept.
Trump, for his part, lashed at some in the Democratic party who have called for "defunding the police," a broad call to reframe thinking about how communities should approach public safety.
"Unfortunately there's some trying to stoke division and to push an extreme agenda, which we won't go for, that will produce only more poverty, more crime, more suffering," Trump said. "This includes radical efforts to defund, dismantle and disband the police. They want to get rid of the police."
Glenn Heights, Texas, Police Chief Vernell Dooley urged Trump to increase resources to provide police with more training. "We need training," Dooley said. "This is not the time to defund police departments."
Activists say it isn't about eliminating police departments or stripping agencies of all their money. They say it is time for the country to address systemic problems in policing in America and spend more on other things communities across the U.S. need, like housing and education.
Trump has publicly expressed sympathy for the family of Floyd and suggested that Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin, who prosecutors say pressed his knee down on Floyd's neck for several minutes, must have "snapped."
But Trump has also underscored that he believes that 99% of police are "great, great people." Top advisers, including Attorney General William Barr, have rejected the notion that systemic racial bias is a problem in American law enforcement.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, dismissed Trump's Dallas visit in advance as a "photo op" and charged that the president has "run away from a meaningful conversation on systemic racism and police brutality."
Trump, whose campaign effort has been largely sidelined by the coronavirus, was also holding a high-dollar fundraiser during his visit to Dallas. The intimate event for about 25 supporters was expected to raise $10 million to be split between his campaign, the Republican National Committee and 22 state parties, according to a GOP official.
Madhani reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg in Dallas and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.