Metro

Police chiefs criticize Elizabeth Warren for calling criminal justice system ‘racist’

Senator Elizabeth Warren at a town hall meeting in Natick last month.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/File
Senator Elizabeth Warren at a town hall meeting in Natick last month.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren is facing tough criticism from local police chiefs over her recent remarks about racism and the criminal justice system, exposing her to new attacks from rivals as she runs for re-election amid buzz that she could be a Democratic presidential contender in 2020.

While speaking Aug. 3 at Dillard University, a historically black college in New Orleans, Warren said the criminal justice system is “racist. . . front to back.”

The remarks drew a rebuke from Yarmouth Police Chief Frank G. Frederickson, who wrote Friday on the department’s Facebook page that her comments were an “insult.”

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He also questioned the sincerity of the condolences Warren offered after Yarmouth police Sergeant Sean Gannon and Weymouth police Sergeant Michael Chesna were shot and killed earlier this year.

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“I now cannot trust her actions or words are real,” Frederickson wrote.

He also shared a letter to Warren from Dudley police Chief Steven J. Wojnar, who is president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

“Labeling the entire criminal justice profession as “racist” spreads false and damaging information about our members,” wrote Wojnar, who asked Warren to elaborate on her remarks.

Warren spoke with Frederickson by phone on Saturday and had a good conversation, according to Kristen Orthman, a campaign spokes-woman. She didn’t reveal what Warren and Frederickson discussed.

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In a statement, Warren said her remarks in New Orleans were about the criminal justice system as a whole.

“I spoke about an entire system — not individuals — and will continue to work on reforms to make the criminal justice system fairer,” she said.

Speaking to reporters after a town hall event Saturday in Eastham, Warren said she spoke with Gannon’s family after his death. She said she is thankful for law enforcement officers who risk their lives on a daily basis, according to a recording of the exchange provided by Warren’s campaign.

“The entire law enforcement system has a lot of good people who get up every day and try to make this a more just, a more fair, more responsive system. And they say over and over, the system needs reform. It needs change,” she said.

In an e-mail, Frederickson said he has heard other police chiefs are considering writing to Warren. He didn’t respond to a follow-up e-mail about his conversation with Warren.

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Opponents trying to unseat Warren from the US Senate have capitalized on her comments about the criminal justice system.

Geoff Diehl, a state representative from Whitman who is in a three-way race to be Warren’s Republican challenger, said voters tell him her remarks show she is out of touch with Massachusetts.

“These chiefs are correct in their assessment that this was a real a slap in the face to law enforcement,” Diehl said.

John Kingston, another GOP candidate for US Senate, called on Warren to apologize.

“People are just besides themselves. They just don’t understand how their public servants can not support the people who are on the front lines,” he said.

In social media posts, Republican candidate Beth Lindstrom also called on Warren to apologize. “I stand with Chief Frederickson, and all law enforcement,” she wrote. Her campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Shiva Ayyadurai, who is challenging Warren as an independent, called her remarks “election-year posturing.”

“She’s done this simply to garner political points with her constituency,” he said. “In my view, she’s part of the problem.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.