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October 17, 2019

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In North Las Vegas, Jeb Bush challenged by Black Lives Matter activists

More Jeb Bush

Steve Marcus

Activists including Rafael Lopez, center, chant “Black lives matter” at the end of Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s town hall meeting at the Pearson Community Center in North Las Vegas Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015.

Activists Disrupt Jeb Bush

Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, shakes hands with activist A.J. Buhay at the end of a town hall meeting at the Pearson Community Center in North Las Vegas Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Activists disrupted the end of the meeting with chants of Launch slideshow »

Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush touched on education, immigration, Iran and the economy during an hourlong town hall at a North Las Vegas community center Wednesday night.

But it wasn't until Jamie Hall got the microphone to ask the last question of the evening before the former Florida governor was forced to address a campaign issue that's been gaining momentum in recent weeks — racial inequality.

"I wanted to ask you about racial injustice, racial inequalities, institutional racism," Hall said, referencing the growing Black Lives Matter movement. "Are you going to be talking to different police departments about training reform? You talk about creating a better education system, but if kids in the neighborhoods are seeing their fathers and brothers and cousins killed, why would they want to go to school and excel?"

Bush called the issue a "serious problem" that's gotten worse in recent years.

"Communities, people no longer trust the basic institutions in our society that they need to trust to make things work," Bush said. "There is racism in America, no one should deny that."

Bush said as president he would work to create a climate of civility and understanding instead of one of despair and isolation that pervades in some communities. He added that he believes education is a key part of the solution.

"A child that is educated, that believes that there are chances of going to college and living a life of purpose and meaning is important," he said.

Following his response, about 20 members of the audience stood up and began chanting "Black Lives Matter" as Bush exited the auditorium.

The display appears to be the first activism organized under the "Black Lives Matter" movement targeting a Republican presidential candidate at a campaign event. It comes after activists affiliated with the movement interrupted Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders' rally in Seattle on Saturday.

After Bush's speech, Hall said she felt his response to her question was "vague" and didn't pinpoint the true issues.

"He talked about how education is important, but that's in the future. What about today?" she said. "People are dying in the streets."

Outside of the Black Lives Matter demonstration, Bush's speech and question-and-answer session closely followed the points he's made in several previous visits to Las Vegas.

On immigration, Bush said he supported a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, but not a path to citizenship, drawing a smattering of boos from the crowd. He did say he supported citizenship for so-called "Dreamers," undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country by their parents at a young age.

He said growing the economy is the best way to reduce the nation's debt and deficit, while criticizing President Barack Obama for his support of a nuclear arms deal with Iran.

He also blamed Obama and Democratic front-runner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for mishandling the situation in Iraq.

"We allowed ISIS to be created when we pulled back way too fast as it relates to Iraq," Bush said. "The net result now is, instead of having a fragile but stable Iraq, we now have an Iraq on fire."

Bush's appearance at Pearson Community Center in North Las Vegas, where he addressed a crowd of about 150 people, didn't go unnoticed by Clinton's campaign, which sent out a statement criticizing Bush for curtailing early voting rights in Florida.

"It is ironic that Jeb Bush chose to host a town hall at an early vote polling place as he shut down similar locations in Florida," the statement said. "As governor, Jeb Bush signed into law legislation limiting early voting hours and eliminating sites like Pearson as early vote sites because they did not meet overly restrictive location requirements."

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