Detroiters strike back at Trump’s black voter remarks

Michael Gerstein, and Mark Hicks

Dimondale — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s provocative question Friday to black voters about having little to lose by voting for him generated divided comments from African-Americans.

The New York businessman referred to Detroit’s 40 percent poverty rate, high unemployment rate and high incidence of violence crime to make his argument that African-Americans are worse off under President Barack Obama and would be “perhaps worse” under Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Detroit is more than 80 percent black, according to Census Bureau data.

“What do you have to lose?” he asked African-Americans before a nearly all-white crowd in the suburban Lansing sports complex. “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”

“One thing we know for sure is that if you keep voting for the same people, you will keep getting the same, exactly the same result,” Trump said.

Trump to black voters: 'What do you have to lose?'

Rev. Kenneth J. Flowers, senior pastor at Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit who also is active with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, said the New York businessman can’t be a unifier because he “is spewing vitriol” on the campaign trail.

Flowers noted that Trump did not meet with black groups before or after speaking this month at the Detroit Economic Club.

“Why won’t you come to the black community and talk to us, not at us?” he said. “I’m highly offended by him. I’m praying every day for God to turn this thing into a situation where he can lose by a landslide and we can send a powerful message: America is not as divided as he wants us to be.”

Trump does not understand the history of Detroit or its current dynamics when he blames Democrats for all the city’s woes, said Detroit political consultant Steve Hood, an African-American.

“He obviously doesn’t know of the Republican takeover of Detroit Public Schools,” Hood said. “…He didn’t see the emergency manager program, which voters had overturned but Republicans put back in place and which led to the poisoning of the people of Flint.”

Hood, who hosts a radio show in the Detroit market, also disputed the suggestion that Democrats take African-American voters for granted.

“He’s totally wrong,” said Hood. “Over the last six weeks, I’ve had every Hillary Clinton surrogate you can think of call my radio show.”

Most of the handful of African-Americans who attended the rally here said the speech resonated with them.

Linda Lee Tarver, the president of Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan and an African-American Lansing resident, said she’s tired of liberal policies failing black inner city residents.

“Black folks in the inner cities are not getting the justice they deserve,” Tarver said. “They’re not getting the benefits they deserve; they’re not getting the opportunities they deserve.

“When Donald Trump said you’ve got African-American men in inner cities that have become refugees in these cities – that spoke to me,” she said. “Because that is what’s happening with our family in the D; our family in Benton Harbor; our family in Muskegon; our family in Flint and Saginaw; our family in Lansing.”

Jennifer Nelson, a black Lansing resident at the Trump rally, said she liked much of what she heard, especially Trump’s message about bringing more jobs back to Michigan. But she said she wished he had gone into more detail.

“I think it was very informative,” Nelson said. “I wanted a little more detail from the candidate.”

Nelson was at the rally with her 17-year-old daughter, Michaela Nelson, who said Trump’s comments toward the Democrats were unfair and inaccurate.

“The Democratic Party has been there more than the Republican Party has, historically, so I don’t think that’s very true saying that the Democratic Party has let us down in any way,” said Michaela Nelson, who describes herself as an independent who can’t yet vote.

She attended the speech to “see what he’s bringing to the table and what he can offer me.”

“He has said some pretty off-the-wall things, which some of them are unforgivable,” Michaela said. “But I’m not really understanding why people are focusing on the mean words he says … I’d rather see his action than hear his bigotry.”

Rev. Dr. Lawrence C. Glass Jr., president of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, said he doubts many blacks in the city support Trump.

“He has shown that he’s not a friend of minorities, per se ...,” Glass said. “He would have to do more than just talk for him to really make an impact in the African-American community or with any minorities because his actions through his so-called business ventures, his actions over the last 15-18 months of running for the presidency, clearly show that he has some kind of bias verbally.”

But the speech resonated with Clinton Tarver, an African-American Trump supporter, owner of Clint’s Hotdog Cart in Lansing and Linda Lee Tarver’s husband.

“I thought he hit on a lot of points, especially about the jobs coming back and about the black community; Democrats have been voting like that for years and they’ve been getting the same thing,” Clinton Tarver said. “And it’s refreshing to hear that he’s gonna change all that. And I hope he does that. Because we need it, man.”

Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed