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Trump portrays rampant crime in speech at Black church in Detroit

DETROIT — Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump repeated his characterization of Black communities as dangerous and depressed on Saturday, courting voters in a city he has called “hell” and “totally corrupt” as his campaign hopes incremental gains with Black voters could be decisive in swing states.

“Look, the crime is most rampant right here and in African American communities,” Trump said at 180 Church in Detroit. “More people see me and they say, ‘Sir, we want protection. We want police to protect us. We don’t want to get robbed and mugged and beat up or killed because we want to walk across the street to buy a loaf of bread.’”

The audience, which was not predominantly Black, cheered at the remark. He returned to the topic of crime when asked how he would address Black entrepreneurship. “The biggest thing we can do is stop the crime,” he said.

Black voters have overwhelmingly favored Democrats since the civil rights movement. But recent polls show Trump has made gains with Black men, alarming some Democrats because even a small change in Black turnout or preferences could tip such pivotal states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Many Black Americans have taken offense at Trump’s periodic overtures to their community as playing on racial stereotypes, such as his suggestion that Black voters will look more favorably on his candidacy now that he has a mug shot and has faced criminal prosecution.

“All I’m saying to African Americans is, don’t be confused and don’t be used,” said Keith Williams, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party’s Black Caucus. “It’s offensive to me [that he would] even show up at a sacred spot like a church.”

Trump has made similar appeals to Black voters since his 2016 campaign, famously telling them at a rally that year in Dimondale, Mich., “What do you have to lose?” On Saturday he repeated his frequent boast that during his time in the White House he did more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln — a claim that historians have disputed but that was met with applause in the sanctuary.

Trump cited the “Opportunity Zone” program that was part of his 2017 tax cut bill as benefiting Black Americans, name-dropping Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who worked on the legislation, but not his co-sponsor, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The program was designed to encourage investment in poor communities, though some analyses showed most of the benefits went to the wealthy.

The former president also took credit for congressional funding of historically Black colleges and universities and said the institutions’ leaders would all be voting for him. Audience members stood and cheered when one of the panelists, small business owner Mario Williams, spoke of his experience with incarceration and thanked Trump for signing the sentencing reduction legislation known as the First Step Act.

Elsewhere in the speech, Trump adapted his dominant campaign theme of limiting immigration by saying Black people were most affected. “They’re taking your jobs,” he said.

The Biden campaign accused Trump of pandering and empty promises, emphasizing his history of demeaning Black communities.

“Donald Trump has the nerve to waltz into our city and act like he wants to understand the struggles Black Detroiters face, but the reality is he doesn’t care,” Pastor James Perkins of Detroit’s Greater Christ Baptist Church said in a statement. “Every time Trump opens his mouth to talk to Black folks, he demonizes us, insults us, and makes empty promises he’ll never keep.”

Lorenzo Sewell, the pastor of 180 Church, defended his decision to host Trump, adding that he thought the initial call from the campaign was a prank. “I’ve had people say things like, ‘I can’t believe you would bring the devil here,’” Sewell said in an interview before the event, recounting a conversation with a woman at a neighboring methadone clinic. He said he told her, “Church should be a place where everyone is welcome.”

At the roundtable, Sewell thanked Trump for coming to “the hood,” which he said President Biden and former president Barack Obama never did. Sewell, who prevailed in a long legal fight for control of the church that including his being handcuffed in a confrontation with police, closed with a prayer that praised Trump for raising more than $50 million for his campaign after his conviction on 34 felonies.

Saturday’s program also featured former secretary of housing and urban development Ben Carson, who served as housing secretary under Trump, and Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), both possible running mates, as well as Rep. John James (R-Mich.) and Michigan congressional candidate Martell Bivings.

“When 95 percent of us vote for one party, it means that neither party has to work for our votes,” James said of the Black community. “The Democrat Party has neglected our votes. Republicans haven’t even tried. But that’s changing right now.”

The audience was more diverse than a typical Trump campaign event, but it was not predominantly Black. No one in line identified themselves to a reporter as a member of Sewell’s church.

In speeches since 2020, Trump has repeatedly singled out Detroit, along with other cities with large Black populations, in making false allegations of voter fraud and describing undesirable places to live.

“Everyone gets upset when I say it. They say, ‘Oh, is that a racist statement?’ It’s not a racist,” Trump said in June 2020, naming cities such as Oakland, Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit. “These cities, it’s like living in hell.”

He elaborated at a Michigan rally in April 2022, “You look at what’s happening in Detroit and other parts of your state, it’s a disgrace.”

At a February gala with Black conservatives, Trump said Black voters liked him more now because he has criminal charges and a mug shot. During his trial in New York last month, he held a rally in the South Bronx with rappers facing charges in a felony gang case.

“I have so many Black friends that if I were a racist, they wouldn’t be friends,” Trump said in an interview this month with the news website Semafor. “They would not be with me for two minutes if they thought I was racist — and I’m not racist!”

Democrats noted that Trump was speaking after the church gathering at a convention of the right-wing group Turning Point Action in the same convention center where his supporters clamored to stop the counting of absentee ballots after the 2020 election.

“It is offensive for him to come here, him and his Republican allies, when they made Huntington Place the epicenter of their steal-the-election effort,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, a Democrat, said at a Biden campaign news conference on Friday.

At the Turning Point speech, Trump falsely accused Biden of using the term “super predators” to describe violent criminals as part of his effort to justify the 1994 crime bill, which he spearheaded. Many opponents of the bill criticized that term as dehumanizing. While Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, used the term, there is no evidence that Biden did.

Kimberly Outten, a 53-year-old nurse who attended the church event because she was passing by and noticed the flags and police cars, said her stomach dropped when she heard how much money Trump had raised, millions that she thought could be better spent on housing and social services. Outten said she moved back to Detroit after she could no longer afford her housing in Virginia, adding that she has been without a home for two years.

“I think he had a set agenda and that’s basically to get Black people to vote for him,” she said of Trump. “When he was in office, I think he could have done a better job. It’s almost like we’re forced to choose between bad and worse.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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