Race was a major topic in the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, further revealing a large gap between the two on an issue that has dominated the headlines in recent weeks.
Clinton tried to paint Trump as a racist with a long history of discriminatory and incendiary behavior toward people of color that culminated in Trump's support of the birtherism movement. Trump, meanwhile, vowed to be a better president for minorities while defending highly unpopular policies like stop-and-frisk and taking credit for "getting" President Barack Obama to release his birth certificate.
While the candidate disagreed on many things throughout the 90-plus minute session, the issue of race revealed stark disagreements.
When asked by moderator Lester Holt of NBC News why he persisted in pushing the false claim that President Obama was not born in the United States, Trump once again insisted that the entire issue was started by Clinton's campaign during her hard-fought primary battle against then-Senator Obama in 2008. As for his role, Trump said he is “satisfied” that President Barack Obama release his birth certificate. It took Trump five years after the big reveal to say the president is legitimate - something he did just over one week ago.
“I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate. And I think I did a good job,” Trump said.
“And I think I did a great job and a great service not only for the country, but even for the president, in getting him to produce his birth certificate,” Trump added.
Clinton echoed the feelings of African Americans who were deeply offended by Trump's birther crusade. She called Trump’s birther accusations “a racist lie” and “a very hurtful one.”
Clinton connected the birther issue to Trump's larger views on race. She said it’s part of a pattern of “engaging in racist behavior.” She cited lawsuits against Trump’s real estate company by the Department of Justice for racial discrimination in his buildings in the 1970s as an example.
Trump retorted that Democrats pay lip service but have done little for blacks.
“They talk good around the election time, like right now,” Trump said. “And after the election, they said, see ya later. I’ll see you in four years.”
While criticizing Democrats for taking advantage of the black vote, Trump defended his support of a controversial policing tactic known as stop-and-frisk, a program that searches people for contraband and illegal weapons. It's a program that is highly unpopular in minority communities and reports have shown to disproportionately impact and target people of color.
“Now, whether or not in a place like Chicago you do stop and frisk, which worked very well,” Trump said. “Mayor Giuliani is here, worked very well in New York. It brought the crime rate way down. But you take the gun away from criminals that shouldn't be having it.”
“You have to have stop-and-frisk,” he added about the program widely used by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and continued under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
Clinton rejected the idea of stop-and-frisk, noting that it has been found by a federal judge to be unconstitutional. “It did not do what it needed to do,” Clinton added.
The stop-and-frisk debate led to a conversation about the crime rates with the candidates citing statistics that the other denied.
While defending stop-and-frisk, Trump said that the murder rate in New York City fell from 2,200 murders to 500 murders, assuming he meant during the years of stop-and-frisk from during the 90s and the first decade of the 2000s.
A tense exchange ensued as Clinton insisted that crime “has continued to drop” under the current mayor, Bill DeBlasio, who has made major changes to the New York Police Department.
“No, you’re wrong. You’re wrong,” Trump interjected.
“No I’m not,” Clinton said.
“Murders are up. All right. You check it,” Trump retorted.
The New York Police Department spokesperson tweeted his response to the candidates’ statements about crime in New York, backing up Clinton's claim, saying crime rate “decreased significantly” since stop-and-frisk was largely retired in 2011.
Clinton said that the spate of shootings of African Americans by police officers, including most recently in Charlotte and Tulsa, demonstrated the need for community policing to address “systemic racism” in the criminal justice system.
Trump responded, saying that Clinton refuses to say the words “law and order.”
“We need law and order” in inner cities,” Trump said, because, “We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African- Americans, Hispanics are living in he'll because it's so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot.”
Clinton shot back, saying “it’s really unfortunate that he paints such a dire negative picture of black communities in our country.”
Trump has been criticized, including by President Barack Obama, for saying recently that African American communities are in the “worst shape that they’ve ever been in before – ever, ever, ever.”