Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine told urban leaders meeting Thursday in Baltimore that a Hillary Clinton administration would focus on the deep social and economic challenges that confront cities, including a need to revamp the nation's criminal justice system.
Speaking on criminal justice reform in a city that has wrestled with the issue for years, Kaine — a former mayor of Richmond, Va. — argued for more training, data collection and community policing rather than "adversarial, zero-tolerance" strategies.
"A profound distance has grown up between law enforcement and communities in too many places in America, and that distance is dangerous," he told the annual conference of the National Urban League. "Let's support independent data collection, investigation and, if necessary, prosecution of police involved in deaths."
Kaine, Virginia's junior senator, did not directly mention the death of Freddie Gray or the riots in Baltimore last year that laid bare many of the issues he addressed in his speech. He said that people in Baltimore knew "very, very well" that the nation needs to "end the era of mass incarceration."
The Urban League is holding its annual conference in Baltimore this week more than a year after the riots of April 2015 that caused some groups to pull their conventions out of the city.
Though Kaine did not address the unrest directly, several conference speakers did. The league's president, Marc H. Morial, spoke this week at New Shiloh Baptist Church, the site of Gray's funeral.
Conference organizers said they invited Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump to address the conference. Clinton sent Kaine in her place; Trump did not send a representative.
Kaine called for revamping the criminal justice system, but he also praised police officers. Kaine quoted at length from an emotional Facebook post written by Baton Rouge police Officer Montrell Jackson days before he was killed in which he discussed the difficulty of being a black law enforcement officer.
Kaine vowed that he and Clinton would focus on other issues important to cities, including infrastructure, housing, the environment and troubled public schools.
He received a robust round of applause for noting that Virginia formally apologized for the state's role in slavery in 2007, when he was governor. That action was taken by the state's legislature and did not require Kaine's signature.
Kaine had offered a similar apology almost a decade earlier on behalf of the city of Richmond.
"If English lives in history matter, if Spanish lives in history matter, then African-American lives in history ought to matter to us, too," Kaine said Thursday.
Later, Kaine met with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore for an unannounced lunch at L.P. Steamers in Locust Point.
They met briefly with other diners — most of whom appeared to be from out of state — and then sat down to eat crab cakes and shrimp in the restaurant's second floor.
Cummings said they discussed voter ID laws cropping up across the country, the economy, their shared early careers as civil rights attorneys, and Gray and how the city has reacted to the trials of the police officers who arrested the 25-year-old man.
"I thought it would be good to talk about some of the things we're trying to do here in Baltimore," Cummings said, such as a new requirement that new police officers spend more time on foot patrol.
"We talked about the whole idea of working directly with neighborhood groups and leaders to get better relationships."
Kaine focused on the Clinton campaign's jobs proposal and vowed to increase spending on infrastructure. He offered few specifics for how he and Clinton could move any of those proposals through a Congress that remains largely paralyzed by partisanship.
Kaine discussed Trump only briefly. He reiterated criticism of Trump's past development projects, pointing to a 1973 lawsuit filed by the Justice Department that alleged racial discrimination in housing built by the New York businessman's company. The lawsuit was settled two years later.
"In 1973, The New York Times reported that the Justice Department had filed suit [against] Donald Trump and his father for refusing to rent apartments to African-Americans," Kaine said. "It was one of the largest federal cases of its kind at the time."
A Trump spokeswoman responded by pointing to an article this year in The Washington Post in which a Trump attorney said there was "absolutely no merit to the allegations."
"This suit was brought as part of a nationwide inquiry against a number of companies, and the matter was ultimately settled without any finding of liability and without any admission of wrongdoing whatsoever," the attorney, Alan Garten, told The Post in a statement.
The National Urban League is holding its annual conference in Baltimore this week more than a year after the riots following the death of Gray put on a national stage the problems facing the city and other urban centers. Those issues were recurring themes for several speakers at the conference.
"There were those who didn't want to come to our city," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, told the conference. "Thank you for the vote of confidence in coming to Baltimore."
Organizers say the meeting, which runs through Sunday, is expected to draw 10,000 people, including 5,000 from outside the region.
In the past, the Urban League has held the conference in key presidential election states, such as Florida and Michigan. Maryland is not a battleground state in national elections.
Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.