Trump courts black vote; op­po­si­tion re­mains deep

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Corey Wil­liams

DETROIT — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took African Amer­i­can guests to his State of the Union speech, ran a Su­per Bowl ad boast­ing how he’s mak­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem more eq­ui­table for black peo­ple and por­trayed him­self as the cham­pion of ed­u­ca­tion and job op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple of color.

The over­tures mean noth­ing to black vot­ers like Jo­van Brown, who loathes Trump’s record on race and sees the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent’s African Amer­i­can­heavy guest list at the State of the Union as his pen­chant for us­ing “black peo­ple as a prop.”

“I don’t know too many black peo­ple who care for Don­ald Trump,” said the 21-year-old Brown, who fa­vors Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bernie San­ders.

Trump went out of his way to reach out to black vot­ers dur­ing his speech Tues­day, tout­ing sev­eral ini­tia­tives ahead of the Novem­ber elec­tion. His guests in­cluded one of the last sur­viv­ing Tuskegee air­men and his great-grand­son, who dreams of trav­el­ing to space some­day, and a black vet­eran who strug­gled with drug ad­dic­tion and even­tu­ally put his life back to­gether with a new job. Trump an­nounced a schol­ar­ship for a black fourth-grader from Philadel­phia to high­light what he sees as fail­ing pub­lic schools.

He trum­peted low black un­em­ploy­ment and poverty rates, in­vest­ments in his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, and the ef­fect of Op­por­tu­nity Zones.

Crit­ics have long sug­gested that the real au­di­ence for Trump’s ap­peals to African Amer­i­cans are white sub­ur­ban women who may feel more com­fort­able vot­ing for Trump if they see ev­i­dence that he’s not re­ally as racist as he has at times come across. But the cam­paign has long dis­puted that charge and is con­vinced that, if they can just reach black vot­ers and share what Trump has done, in­clud­ing on the econ­omy, at least some may be will­ing to give him a chance.

But re­cent polls paint a bleak pic­ture for Trump with black vot­ers.

A Wash­ing­ton Post-Ip­sos poll of 1,088 African Amer­i­cans showed that more than 8 in 10 say they be­lieve Trump is a racist and has made racism a big­ger prob­lem in the coun­try. Nine in 10 blacks dis­ap­prove of his job per­for­mance, over­all.

A Pew Re­search Cen­ter anal­y­sis of peo­ple who par­tic­i­pated in its polls and were con­firmed to have voted showed Trump won just 6% of black vot­ers in 2016.

Trump’s pub­lic de­nounce­ment of former NFL quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick and other pro­fes­sional ath­letes who knelt dur­ing the na­tional an­them in protest of po­lice vi­o­lence against African Amer­i­cans did lit­tle to en­dear him to black vot­ers.

The stakes are es­pe­cially high in Detroit.

The city is 80% African Amer­i­can and in a tra­di­tion­ally blue state, Michi­gan, that Trump won in 2016 by 10,704 votes. Trump won Wis­con­sin by fewer than 23,000 votes and Penn­syl­va­nia by about 44,000 votes, two other states where black turnout will be key.

Ninety-six per­cent of the city’s reg­is­tered vot­ers cast bal­lots for Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016, but turnout was down in Detroit. It fell to 48% from 53% eight years ear­lier when Barack Obama won the pres­i­dency.

“Peo­ple vote when they’re pas­sion­ate,” said City Clerk Jan­ice Win­frey. “Peo­ple were pas­sion­ate for Obama. And — maybe not for the same rea­son — they’re pas­sion­ate about Trump. And peo­ple are pretty mad.”

Crit­ics push back against Trump’s claims of eco­nomic progress for the African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity and note that the wage gap be­tween black and white work­ers re­mains high. “If we’re talk­ing about some­one work­ing two or three jobs and they don’t have health care and don’t have money to keep the lights on, those aren’t qual­ity jobs,” said Rashawn Ray, a David M. Ruben­stein Fel­low in Gov­er­nance Stud­ies at the Wash­ing­ton-based Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

They are also frus­trated by the racial cli­mate un­der Trump, the toll of cli­mate change on their neigh­bor­hoods and even Trump’s past words and deeds be­fore he be­came pres­i­dent.

Brown cites Trump’s stance on the so-called Cen­tral Park Five in 1989, when five black and Latino teenagers were charged in the rape of a white jog­ger in New York’s Cen­tral Park. That at­tack be­came a sym­bol of the city’s soar­ing crime. Then-real es­tate de­vel­oper Don­ald Trump took out full-page news­pa­per ads call­ing for the death penalty.

The teens said their con­fes­sions were co­erced, and their con­vic­tions were over­turned in 2002 af­ter a con­victed mur­derer and se­rial rapist con­fessed to the crime.

“He wanted 15-year-old boys mur­dered even though they were in­no­cent,” she said. “I don’t think he’s changed much.”

But the no­tion that Trump is racist is a com­plete myth, said Osi­gah Kakaq, a 24-year-old black man from Char­lotte, North Carolina.

“It’s a Repub­li­can stereo­type the Democrats use over and over again,” Kakaq said. “No can­di­date or party can be en­ti­tled to your vote.”

SARAH SIL­BIGER/THE NEW YORK TIMES 2019

Pres­i­dent Trump stands with Alice Marie John­son, whose life sen­tence he com­muted.

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