Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz said Wednesday that President Barack Obama has "inflamed" racial tensions rather than unify the country.
"President Obama, when he was elected, could have been a unifying leader," Cruz said in a forum moderated by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, adding "he has made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions - that have divided us rather than bringing us together."
He cited as an example Vice President Joe Biden's 2012 comment to a largely black audience that Republicans intended to "put you back in chains."
Asked to specify what Obama has done to worsen race relations, Cruz said that Obama "has not used his role as president to bring us together."
"He has exacerbated racial misunderstanding, racial tensions," he replied. "From back at the beer summit [with professor Henry Louis Gates and the police officer who arrested him in 2009] to a series of efforts to pit Americans against each other. And part of the problem is the way he advocates for any given plan is to build a straw man and then vilify a caricature."
Cruz's remarks come after days of tension and violence in Baltimore, Maryland. The clashes between protesters and police began after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody.
On Tuesday, Obama made extensive remarks about Gray's death and the subsequent riots and looting in Baltimore.
The president decried "senseless violence" and called the looters "a handful of people taking advantage of a situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals."
And he called the conflict in Baltimore part of a "slow-rolling crisis" and said it should be cause for "soul-searching" about its underlying causes, including inequality and poverty.
- Carrie Dann