RNC's Priebus calls for calm in wake of unrest at Trump rallies

Story highlights

  • "Violence is never the answer. Violence only begets more violence," Priebus said
  • "Leaders and activists in both parties bear a responsibility to ensure that the discourse we engage in promotes the best of America," he said

Washington (CNN)A day after fights and protests forced Republican front-runner Donald Trump to cancel a Chicago rally, the Republican National Committee's chairman released a statement calling for Americans to be respectful of each others' views.

"While I hope all Americans exercise their First Amendment rights, we must do so in a manner that is respectful of our fellow Americans. While we have differences, our right to free speech should be just that: speech," Reince Priebus said Saturday. "Violence is never the answer. Violence only begets more violence."
    "As we go further along in this election cycle, I ask those on my side of the political spectrum and those on the left to engage actively in the political process in a manner that continues to make our democracy the envy of the rest of the world," he continued. "Leaders and activists in both parties bear a responsibility to ensure that the discourse we engage in promotes the best of America."
    Priebus said the world will be watching how Americans behave this election.
    "The stakes for the election this November are high. The eyes of the world will look upon America closely to see how we conduct ourselves," he said.
    Even before Friday's unrest -- which included physical altercations between Trump supporters and protesters, as well as confrontations on the streets outside the arena where the rally was to be held -- protests and racial tensions have been escalating at Trump rallies.
    On Thursday, a man attending a Trump rally this week was charged with assault after he allegedly sucker-punched a black protester being led out of a Trump event.
    Last fall, Trump said a Black Lives Matter protester maybe "should have been roughed up." And despite an announcement at the start of his rallies urging supporters not to be violent toward protesters, Trump in February urged his supporters to "knock the crap out of" anybody "getting ready to throw a tomato" and vowed to pay for their legal fees should they face charges.
    "Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell -- I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise," Trump said.
    And Trump also said he personally wanted to punch a protester "in the face" during a rally in February.
    But at CNN's Republican debate on Thursday, Trump insisted that he did not support violence at his events.
    "I certainly do not condone that at all," Trump said, adding, "We have some protesters who are bad dudes. They have done bad things."