Republican Assembly candidate and Cumberland County Freeholder Jim Sauro

A Cumberland County freeholder seeking a state Assembly seat is standing by controversial comments he made on his radio show.

Jim Sauro, a Republican in the competitive 1st Legislative District race, said people protesting and rioting over police shootings “want a race war.” He made the comments this spring and summer on his Saturday morning radio show, “Straight Talk,” on WVLT-FM 92.1.

A Politico New Jersey report Tuesday highlighted the comments, along with analysis by political experts and criticism by the state’s NAACP president.

Richard Smith, former president of Vineland’s NAACP chapter, told Politico that Sauro has a reputation for such comments but that he didn’t believe the freeholder was racist.

“I think he’s off target and off mark when it comes to some of his comments,” Smith said.

The 1st District represents parts of Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties. Sauro is running with Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi against Democratic Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak and his running mate, Bruce Land. Democratic Spokeswoman Allison Murphy did not return calls for comment.

Sauro said Tuesday that the remark and other comments were only a part of what he’s talked about. He said police officers often are guilty in the eyes of the public before they are proved innocent, and that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow for that. He specifically pointed to Bridgeton police’s fatal shooting of Jerame Reid in December 2014.

“I am proud of the people in Bridgeton for how they acted,” he said. “They didn’t light the city on fire. They didn’t go crazy. … They acted totally different than people in Missouri.”

“They wanted answers,” he said. “They have a right to protest, but they don’t have a right to burn a city down.”

But in September, Sauro took a different stance on the issue.

Sauro has been critical of Black Lives Matter, an activist group that protests police shootings of unarmed people of color, a group he says supports convicting officers prior to an investigation.

“They are still using ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ in Missouri, and none of it was true,” Sauro said in September of the Michael Brown case. “The man was guilty on the first day. By the way, black lives matter, but so does everyone else’s.”

Julianne Malveaux, former president emerita of Bennett College for Women, said there has been a systematic diminishing of black lives in the U.S. She said the country and its elected officials do not embrace equality.

“Too many elected officials are scared,” said Malveaux, who has held positions in women’s rights, civil rights and policy organizations. “The nation has not embraced the Black Lives Matter movement because if they did, they’d have to look themselves in the mirror and ask if black lives really matter to them.”

Sauro, a self-proclaimed “strong proponent for police officers and law enforcement,” said in September that people aren’t adhering to the justice system in place in the United States. He said people aren’t going to the same extremes when it comes to black-on-black violence.

Chris Russell, a spokesman for Sauro’s campaign, said Sauro isn’t afraid to confront and address topics that other politicians “avoid like the plague.” Russell said Sauro speaks from his heart and doesn’t have a filter on his opinions, which can cut both ways.

He said Sauro believes that political correctness can get in the way of having an honest, blunt conversation about issues where passion can run deep on multiple sides.

“While Jim has made no secret of his strong support for law enforcement,” Russell said, “he is open and willing to hear from people in the minority community who feel differently and get a better understanding of where they are coming from.”

Sauro has also been critical of President Barack Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, saying the president did nothing to quell situations pertaining to police brutality and that Lynch “could have handled things differently” regarding Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore.

“Racism will never be eliminated in the country, as long as people get power, money from it and recognition,” Sauro said Tuesday. “I once believed that race relations in this country were doing pretty well. Now, I believe some people inflamed the situation.”

Walter Hudson, spokesman and advocate for the Reid family, said Sauro is out of touch.

“Jim Sauro doesn’t understand history. What he calls riots, we call it an uprising when an oppressive force has been unable to provide justice to those being oppressed as it pertains to police brutality. That’s why the whole BLM started. Clearly he is misinformed.”

Contact: 609-272-7260

Twitter @TylerRickyTynes

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