Mike Pence defends police at convention amid rising race tension

Mike Pence defends police at convention amid rising race tension
Vice president Mike Pence speaks on the third day of the Republican National Convention (Andrew Harnik/AP)

US vice president Mike Pence has forcefully defended law enforcement but made no mention of the black Americans killed by police this year as he addressed Republican convention proceedings.

Wednesday evening’s featured speaker, Mr Pence argued that Democratic leaders are allowing lawlessness to prevail from coast to coast.

He and others described cities wracked by violence, though protests in most locations have been largely peaceful.

“The American people know we don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement and standing with African American neighbours to improve the quality of life in our cities and towns,” he said.

He assailed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for saying there is an “implicit bias” against people of colour and “systemic racism” in the US.

Vice President Mike Pence arrives with his wife Karen Pence to speak on the third day of the Republican National Convention (Andrew Harnik/AP)

“The hard truth is… you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Mr Pence said.

“Let me be clear: The violence must stop – whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha.”

Absent from Mr Pence’s 37-minute speech: a direct mention of Jacob Blake, the black man who was wounded by police on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

There was also no reference to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or other black people who have been killed by police this year, spurring a new nationwide protest movement.

As their convention nears its conclusion on Thursday, Republicans are seeking to reconcile their depiction of President Donald Trump as a smooth, stable leader with the reality that the United States is facing a series of crises that include the demonstrations, a potentially catastrophic hurricane and a raging pandemic that is killing more than 1,000 Americans a day.

The historic convergence of health, economic, environmental and social emergencies is only increasing the pressure on Mr Trump, as he looks to reshape the contours of his campaign against Mr Biden with election day just 10 weeks off and early voting beginning much sooner.

Mike Pence stands on stage with President Donald Trump (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The convention keynote gave Mr Pence another opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Mr Trump.

The vice president, who is also the chair of the White House coronavirus task force, defended the administration’s handling of the pandemic, a political liability that was otherwise largely absent from the convention programme.

He also delivered sober, encouraging words to Gulf Coast residents as Hurricane Laura neared.

“This is a serious storm,” Mr Pence said. “And we urge all those in the affected areas to heed state and local authorities. Stay safe and know that we’ll be with you every step of the way to support, rescue, respond, and recover in the days and weeks ahead.”

Positioning himself as a potential heir to Mr Trump in 2024, Mr Pence delivered sharp attacks against Mr Biden, but also presented an optimistic vision of the country’s future.

He spoke from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, where an 1814 battle inspired the National Anthem – which has been at the centre of a cultural debate, fuelled by Mr Trump, over athletes who kneel rather than stand in protest of racial injustice.

Mr Trump made an unannounced appearance to join Mr Pence after his remarks for a performance of the anthem at the fort.

The president, vice president and their wives later greeted guests, some of whom were in walkers and stood for the anthem.

President Donald Trump and first Lady Melania Trump stand on stage with Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Some in the crowd gathered close together to get a glimpse of the Pences and Trumps in violation of social distancing guidelines. Mr Pence was seen shaking a greeter’s hand.

While the Fort McHenry speech was orchestrated to present a grand scene, earlier portions of the programme were lower energy.

The show for Americans at home lacked some of the production elements that had made previous nights memorable, including slickly produced videos and surprise announcements, such as an unexpected presidential pardon and a citizenship ceremony.

Besides Mr Pence, there was no major headline speaker and few boldface names.

George W Bush, the sole living former Republican president, is not expected to address the convention.

Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee who has emerged as a Trump foe, is also absent from the line-up.

The convention unfolded after three nights of protests in Kenosha prompted Mr Trump to issue repeated calls for Democratic governor Tony Evers to increase the deployment of National Guard troops to help keep the peace.

Mr Trump also directed the Department of Justice to send FBI agents and US marshals to the city as reinforcements, a day after a white 17-year-old who had been outspoken in support of police was accused of killing two protesters and wounding another.

The night also included remarks from the president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as well as several administration officials including departing counsellor Kellyanne Conway, the manager of Mr Trump’s 2016 general election campaign, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

“This is the man I know and the president we need,” said Ms Conway, a week before she is to leave the White House.

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