Corey Stewart, Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign chairman, recently laid blame on Democrats for the July 7 sniper shootings that left five Dallas police officers dead and nine wounded.
"Liberal politicians who label police as racists - specifically Hillary Clinton and Virginia Lt. Governor Ralph Northam - are to blame for essentially encouraging the murder of these police officers tonight," Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, wrote in a Facebook post shortly after midnight on July 8.
We’re not fact-checking Stewart’s opinion that comments from "liberal politicians" triggered the Dallas shootings by a man who was upset by recent police killings of blacks in other cities. Our focus is investigating Stewart’s claim that Clinton and Northam have labeled police as racists.
Stewart has rivalries with both Democrats. As Trump’s state chairman, he has a major role in trying to defeat Clinton this fall in Virginia.
Next year, Stewart plans to seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination. That puts him at cross-purposes with Northam, who is the only announced Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
Stewart doubled down on his statement in a follow-up Facebook post that said: "Va. Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and Hillary Clinton are pitting minorities against the police. Whenever there is a police shooting involving a minority, their knee jerk reaction is to allege racism."
Trump’s campaign quickly distanced itself from Stewart’s statement that "liberal politicians" caused the Dallas shooting. "Corey does not speak for the campaign, and this is not something we agree with," Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, told The New York Times.
Stewart’s social media posts don’t cite any comments by Clinton or Northam. So we asked Stewart to point us to specific statements by the two Democrats that prove both "label police as racists." He declined our request.
We also reached out to the Republican Party of Virginia, to see if it’s aware of any comments that would back Stewart’s claim. The party didn’t provide any.
"Not our statement," David D’Onofrio, a party spokesman, wrote in an email.
So we looked on our own.
After police fatally shot two black men this month - Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. - Clinton tweeted, "Alton Sterling Matters, Philando Castile Matters. Black Lives Matter."
She attached a statement to her tweet: "Something is profoundly wrong when so many Americans have reason to believe that our country doesn’t consider them as precious as others because of the color of their skin."
In a Jan. 16 primary debate, NBC News anchor Lester Holt asked Clinton about the 2015 fatal shooting of Walter Scott, a black man who was running away from a police officer in North Charleston, S.C.
"We understand that a jury will decide whether that police officer was justified. But it played straight to the fears of many African-American men that their lives are cheap. Is that perception, or in your view is it reality?" Holt asked.
Clinton said that, sadly, that is a reality.
"There needs to be a concerted effort to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system," she said. "And that requires a very clear agenda for retraining police officers, looking at ways to end racial profiling, finding more ways to really bring the disparities that stalk our country into high relief."
On the eve of South Carolina’s Democratic Primary in February, Clinton released a TV ad in which she lamented a "fundamentally broken" system where "African-Americans are more likely to be arrested by police and sentenced to longer prison terms for doing the same thing that whites do."
Clinton said in the ad, "We have to face up to the hard truth of injustice and systemic racism."
We asked Clinton’s campaign if it sees a distinction between her comments about "systemic racism" and Stewart’s claim that she labels police as racists. Sarah Peck, a Virginia spokeswoman for the campaign, sent us a series of Clinton statements this year voicing broad support for police officers. Here are a few:
"I think the vast majority of police officers in our country are serving honorably and bravely, and that’s why it’s very important we support their work. That we respect their service," Clinton said during a July 8 interview with "ABC World News Tonight."
"I think that most law enforcement is doing an excellent job. They are honorable, they’re working hard. But we don’t want to taint everybody with the problems that some have," she said during a Feb. 12 interview with WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, S.C.
"Now I think you know, because I sure believe, there are many police officers out there every day inspiring trust and confidence, putting themselves on the line to save lives. So let's learn from those who are doing it right and apply those lessons across the country," she said during a Feb. 16 speech in Harlem, N.Y.
Clinton has called for improved police training to combat "implicit bias." She also wants to create federal matching grants to help police forces buy body cameras to protect officers from unfair accusations and suspects from mistreatment.
Contrary to Stewart’s claim, we couldn’t find any comments by the lieutenant governor that even remotely accused police of racism. We searched the archives of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Washington Post, The Virginian-Pilot, The Roanoke Times and the Daily Press. We also combed through Northam’s website, his Facebook page and Twitter pages for the lieutenant governor’s office and Northam’s gubernatorial campaign.
The only Northam statement we found on the violence was released shortly after the Dallas shootings and expressed grief felt by the lieutenant governor and his wife.
"Pam and I are heartbroken over the horrific violence against the police in Dallas," Northam said in the written statement. "With so much violence and tragedy in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge, this is a time for our nation to come together and heal. Having cared for those who are wounded in service of our country, I know the sacrifice these officers make and my prayers are with the victims, their families, all first responders and all communities affected by violence."
Alexsis Rodgers, Northam’s policy director and spokeswoman, told us the lieutenant governor’s office is perplexed by Stewart’s claim.
Stewart said that Hillary Clinton and Ralph Northam "label police as racists." He declined to offer any statements by the two Democrats that would back his claim.
Clinton has said racial profiling needs to end and that law enforcement needs to confront "systemic racism" in the criminal justice system. That lends an element of truth to Stewart’s statement, but it’s a far cry from Clinton labeling all police as racists. Clinton has said repeatedly that the actions of a few officers shouldn’t taint all law enforcement officers.
With Northam, we can’t find any statement that supports Stewart’s incendiary claim, and Stewart dodges his burden of proof.
All told, we rate Stewart’s statement Mostly False.