Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment.
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen issued a statement Monday afternoon explaining, but not apologizing for, his claim Friday that Black Lives Matter is a "radical hate group."
"The remarks I shared after Friday’s press conference were made during an emotional time, I hope everyone can respect that," Allen wrote in the statement, published on the El Paso Police Department's website. "I am a police officer first and foremost and it truly pains me any time an officer is killed."
Allen made his original comments on Black Lives Matter after a press conference held by El Paso law enforcement officials on Friday, in response to the shootings of police officers in Dallas. He did not speak during the conference, but afterwards a reporter asked him what he would say to residents who planned a vigil on Sunday night for victims of police shootings.
“Black Lives Matter, as far as I’m concerned, is a radical hate group," Allen said. "For that purpose alone I think the leadership of this country needs to look a little bit harder at that particular group. The consequences of what we saw in Dallas is due to their efforts.”
A group of 13 state lawmakers and representatives of the NAACP and ACLU wrote a letter over the weekend calling on Mayor Oscar Leeser and the El Paso City Council to publicly repudiate Allen's claim. The Tribune could not reach Allen or Leeser for comment on Monday afternoon.
Signees included local Democratic lawmakers U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke; state Sen. José Rodríguez; state Reps. César Blanco, Joe Moody and Mary González; County Judge Veronica Escobar; representatives for the NAACP and ACLU; and Evelina Ortega, who is expected to win the Texas House District 77 seat in November.
"This statement, in the chief’s official capacity and in uniform, sends exactly the wrong message at a time when good people are working to address a crisis of violence and distrust that disproportionately affects minority communities," the letter read in part.
In his statement issued Monday, Allen criticized rhetoric he said Black Lives Matter supporters have used at protests around the country. In Minnesota, he wrote, protesters had chanted "pigs in a blanket fry them like bacon."
"Is anyone stepping up and condemning or even attempting to stop these activities or this kind of rhetoric?" Allen wrote. "NO! These actions directly and indirectly influence people looking to take part in negative activities. Our City supports the initial cause for the creation of 'Black Lives Matter' but we do not support violence in any shape or form."
On Monday afternoon, an online petition titled "Leave Greg Allen Alone, El Paso," had attracted nearly 700 signatories.
In an editorial published online on Sunday evening, the El Paso Times wrote that Allen had "failed a key leadership test" and chosen words that divided the police from community members. The Times also called on the Leeser and city council members to condemn Allen's remarks.
At a vigil Sunday vigil at San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso, 200 attendees sang, listened to poetry and listed the names of black people who have been killed by police in Texas and the United States in 2016. The vigil was organized by the Black Student Union at the University of Texas at El Paso and the El Paso chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Cemelli de Aztlan, an organizer with the El Paso Equal Voice Network, a group of community organizations that works with low-income El Pasoans, assisted with organizing the vigil and said El Paso needed to address law enforcement shortcomings.
"The chief's comments add fuel to the fire at a time when our community needs leadership. It is because of his failure that we, as peaceful vigil organizers, had to confront being labeled as extreme, radical and violent," de Aztlan wrote in an email to the Tribune. "It was because of his misinformed and poorly calculated remarks, that we had to censor our outrage and subdue our sorrows."