In a candidate forum with the South Carolina Senate race contenders, Senator Lindsey Graham has said he did not believe there was systemic racism in his state, insisting young black people would be safe, "as long as they're conservative."
Graham made the comment during what was initially going to be another head-to-head debate on Friday with Democratic contender, Jaime Harrison.
The format for the televised event was changed after Graham had refused a request by Harrison to take a coronavirus test beforehand. Instead, both candidates were questioned for 30 minutes each on a range of issues, laying out their pitches for the state's voters.
After being asked about what legislation he proposed to end police brutality, he said he believed in law enforcement reform and that while the people behind the killing of George Floyd "was wrong and people should pay the price," he went on to say that "what is happening in America... is a war on the police itself."
"Do I believe that our cops are systemically racist? No. Do I believe that South Carolina is a racist state? No.," he said. "To young people of color, to young immigrants, this is a great state.
"I am asking every African-American out there, look at my record," he said, referring to how he supported historically black colleges and universities. "I care about everybody, if you are a young African-American, an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this state, you just need to be conservative not liberal."
Speaking before Graham, Harrison was also asked race and law enforcement. He was challenged about a tweet in which he said that: "Just as slavery was ended, we can end the epidemic of police brutality in this country and root out the systemic racism that oppresses communities of color across South Carolina and our entire country."
Harrison said he believed in a register for law enforcement, having a national standard for use of force, demilitarizing police but he did not back defunding the police.
"There are some bad apples in the system that need to be rooted out. We need to bring some accountability to the system," he said.
The coronavirus pandemic was a key topic in the forum with Harrison pointing to Graham's refusal to take a COVID-19 test after "being in a hearing room with two people who have tested positive for the coronavirus."
"We have to take this thing seriously... we need our leaders to actually lead by example," Harrison said.
The race for the Senate is tight, with both candidates locked in a dead heat in the race with 48 percent each, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters conducted before the presidential debate. This was unchanged from a survey on September 16 which also showed both candidates each getting 48 percent support.