RALEIGH, N.C. — The candidates running to become North Carolina’s attorney general praised law enforcement officers Wednesday for the dangerous work they do after the violent reaction to Charlotte police shooting a black motorist. But their praise came with a difference.
More than a dozen officers were injured in Charlotte, including one who was hit in the face with a rock, as protesters and police clashed into early Wednesday in unrest that saw semi-trucks looted and set on fire. Authorities used tear gas to disperse the protests, which happened after another demonstration in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the shooting there of an unarmed black man by police.
State Sen. Buck Newton, a Republican from Wilson, said he knew few details of the Charlotte shooting and nothing about the Tulsa case, but said his support for law officers would be unwavering if he were elected the state’s top cop in November.
“I, as attorney general, am going to be very supportive, very understanding and sympathetic to the dangerous job that officers do. They have split seconds to often make decisions. And when they’re being gunned down in the streets, or having cars intentionally try to run over them,” their lives are in danger, Newton said in an interview. “I do object that those who are politically trying to whip up sentiment against law enforcement, because most law enforcement are good, caring people who just want to serve all of us.”
Democrat Josh Stein of Raleigh, who left his state Senate seat this year to run for attorney general, said there needs to be better cooperation and less tension between police and urban communities. But police who commit crimes should be just as accountable as anyone else, he said.
“If any officer does something that violates the law, they need to be held accountable just like anyone else. That goes without saying because guess what, when reporters break the law, they should be held accountable and when politicians break the law they should be held accountable,” Stein said.
Wilson and Stein also discussed the tension between black communities and police use of lethal force during a debate Tuesday night in Asheboro. Their debate was scheduled to be broadcast on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Channel on Wednesday night and at noon Thursday.
They are competing for the job Attorney General Roy Cooper is leaving after 16 years to run for governor. Stein is endorsed by the state’s largest law enforcement lobbying group, the 10,000-member North Carolina Police Benevolent Association. Newton is endorsed by the North Carolina Trooper’s Association.
The attorney general administers two academies that train thousands of law officers around the state each year. The attorney general also may step in to prosecute police at the request of a local district attorney, as Cooper did last year in the case of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall Kerrick.
Despite pressure from local civil rights leaders, Cooper’s office opted against putting Kerrick on trial a second time after a jury deadlocked on a manslaughter charge over the death of an unarmed black man. Jonathan Ferrell was shot 10 times in 2013 as he sought help after a car crash.
Newton criticized Cooper for pursuing that prosecution for longer than he should have due to political pressure.
“They put that officer through a lot,” Newton said.