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Susan Rice condemns recent violence at protests, says she does not support defunding police

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Susan Rice at the 2019 Texas Tribune Festival. She spoke to Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith this week in her most extensive interview since Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden announced his running mate, a role for which she was considered. Credit: Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

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Former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice on Tuesday condemned recent violence in Oregon and Washington, where Americans’ tensions over whether police departments should be defunded or supported have boiled over and turned deadly at protests stemming from officers’ high-profile shootings and killings of unarmed Black people.

In a conversation with The Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith during the 2020 Texas Tribune Festival, Rice also distanced herself and Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden from the “defund the police” movement. She also accused President Donald Trump of “encouraging” violence and worsening the coronavirus pandemic.

Rice made it clear that Biden and most Democrats, herself included, do not agree with the rioting and looting that has occurred during protests against police brutality in many cities this year. She said that the protests were being “hijacked” and that local law enforcement should take action when necessary.

“There have been elements that have come and engaged in violence which is reprehensible, condemnable, not acceptable under any circumstances, but they don’t define the protests,” Rice said in the interview that was her most extensive since Biden announced his vice presidential pick — a role for which Rice was considered.

Rice emphasized that the demonstrations stem from continued racial injustice in America and have been largely peaceful. She also denounced people using violence as a way to make a political point.

“They don’t define the Black Lives Matter movement and it is not the case as the president and attorney general would have you believe that Antifa is this huge force that is wreaking anarchy throughout our cities,” Rice said.

In the lead up to the November election, speakers at the Republican National Convention and President Donald Trump have portrayed Democrats as opponents of law and order who want to defund police forces across the country.

She also alleged that Trump essentially encouraged violence in his responses to deaths at recent protests.

“I didn’t hear him condemn the killer in Kenosha. I didn’t hear him even condemn what happened to Jacob Blake,” she said of an unarmed black man shot by police in the Wisconsin city. “What I did see were 90 tweets on Sunday that seemed to encourage vigilantism in Kenosha and Portland.”

Following Blake’s shooting, protesters took to the streets against police brutality. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old boy, is charged with shooting three protesters during one of those demonstrations, leaving two dead and one injured.

Trump, as Rice pointed out, declined Monday to condemn Rittenhouse’s actions.

"I guess he was in very big trouble,” the president said of Rittenhouse at a press briefing. “He probably would have been killed.”

That was not the only protest that weekend that turned fatal. In Portland, protesters and counter-protesters clashed after a Trump rally. Aaron J. Danielson, a protester who was a member of a far-right political organization, was fatally shot. Police are still investigating possible suspects and motives.

Rice said that if voters decide to reelect Trump on the basis of his emphasization of law and order, nothing will change, even if Democratic mayors lead these major cities.

“We have this violence in Donald Trump’s America largely because Donald Trump has no concern for the underlying issues at play here which relate to great societal and racial inequity and police brutality, which hopefully [is] only a reflection of a small minority of our police, but is nonetheless happening repeatedly and serially,” she said.

Some Democrats have used the term “defund the police” to advocate for police reform in the wake of protests, but Rice said that the slogan has become misconstrued, as Biden has also suggested.

“I am not for defunding the police, particularly if defunding the police means eliminating police forces or in every instance, taking away such substantial funds from the police forces that the police are unable to do the job that they need to do,” she said.

Rice said she supports taking police out of social work and reallocating resources for social and economic development in cities where forces are given too many funds.

Rice also criticized Trump’s “failed” response to the coronavirus, which she said is why 180,000 Americans have died.

Rice created the National Security Council’s pandemic response office during her time in former President Barack Obama’s administration. Trump disbanded the office in 2018.

“It didn’t fit Donald Trump’s definition of national security,” she said. “And so he not only failed to act but he took steps that affirmatively made it worse, including refusing to use the power of the federal government to procure and distribute critical supplies, by shutting things down but then very prematurely urging the reopening of states and the economy long before most places we had bent the curve sufficiently, cheerleading students to go back to school where it is not yet safe to do so.”

Even though Biden tapped U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Rice didn’t rule out a return to a presidential administration.

“If that means I have to play less tennis in a given week in order to do a little bit more to help this country, I am willing to do that,” she said.