Trump to seek sup­port from black vot­ers dur­ing visit here

Crit­ics scoff at ef­fort to boost sup­port; back­ers see gains for mi­nori­ties.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FRONT PAGE - By Ernie Suggs es­[email protected]

Charles Steele isn’t wait­ing for his phone to ring.

When Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump comes to town to­day to launch his Black Voices for Trump coali­tion, Steele doesn’t ex­pect ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials to seek out his in­sights as na­tional pres­i­dent of the South­ern Chris­tian Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence, the or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other stal­warts of the civil rights move­ment.

Trump, he said, has largely ig­nored black is­sues dur­ing his three years in of­fice, es­pe­cially those that af­fect the many who are strug­gling.

From his of­fice on Auburn Av­enue, in the heart of black Atlanta, Steele looks out his win­dow to see home­less men and women, in­clud­ing the one who slept in his door­way overnight, wan­der­ing the same streets King walked

down gen­er­a­tions ago.

“Un­til he comes into the heart of Atlanta’s in­ner city and sees and talks to the peo­ple sleep­ing un­der the bridges, I have no con­fi­dence that any of this mat­ters,” said Steele. “The racial di­vide that we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing with the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion is real.”

A year ahead of the 2020 elec­tion, Trump’s cam­paign is ap­par­ently try­ing to bridge some of that di­vide with the newly formed coali­tion. Or­ga­niz­ers have been tight-lipped about to­day’s in­vite-only event, but a se­nior White House of­fi­cial said Atlanta was picked as the lo­ca­tion of the ini­tia­tive’s roll­out be­cause of its promi­nence in black cul­ture and its fast-grow­ing African Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion.

In 2016, a pal­try 8% of black vot­ers na­tion­wide cast their bal­lots for Trump. And a re­cent poll by The As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search showed that only 4% of African Amer­i­cans think Trump’s ac­tions and poli­cies have ben­e­fited black peo­ple.

But, how­ever small his black sup­port now, those who stand with the pres­i­dent be­lieve it would grow if black vot­ers looked at what he has done.

“How many peo­ple in our com­mu­nity have been bitch­ing and moan­ing about prison re­form? Done. How many have been bitch­ing and moan­ing about jobs? Done,” said Lu­cre­tia Hughes, a black con­ser­va­tive and Trump sup­porter in Lo­ganville. “The guy has done more for the black com­mu­nity than I have ever seen.”

CJ Pear­son, a 17-year-old high school se­nior in Au­gusta, has emerged as one of the youngest and most prom­i­nent black faces in the con­ser­va­tive move­ment.

“The pres­i­dent com­ing to launch his coali­tion in Atlanta, which is known for black ex­cel­lence, speaks to how much Ge­or­gia is at the epi­cen­ter of what re­mains to be seen in 2020,” said Pear­son. “This just speaks to the pres­i­dent’s com­mit­ment to as­sur­ing the ad­vance­ment of peo­ple of color in this coun­try. He has a mes­sage that is in­clu­sive.”

The guest list for the event, how­ever, won’t in­clude many of Atlanta’s prom­i­nent African Amer­i­cans. The city is a strong­hold for Democrats.

Lashan­dra New­ton Span, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist who lives in Fair­burn, believes that Trump has no un­der­stand­ing or real con­cern for mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, and called his event “a fee­ble at­tempt to hide the fail­ure of his poli­cies for votes.”

Span, who is a Demo­crat, said just about ev­ery black per­son she knows agrees with her on Trump. He seems to rely, she said, on the same black faces to showcase his sup­port among African Amer­i­cans.

“The ones I see on tele­vi­sion are the same ones you see in dif­fer­ent states,” Span said. “And I won­der if they are get­ting paid to be there.”

Leo Smith, for­mer mi­nor­ity voter en­gage­ment di­rec­tor for the Ge­or­gia GOP, de­scribes him­self as a one-time ca­sual Trump sup­porter who has since been turned off by the pres­i­dent’s rhetoric. He said Trump is go­ing to need ev­ery African Amer­i­can and His­panic vote he can get. But this is not the way to do it.

“When you are do­ing some­thing only for black peo­ple, you are only look­ing for the photo op,” Smith said. “I have never seen the Democrats do a rally just for black peo­ple.”

Last month, Trump opened a three-day fo­rum on crim­i­nal jus­tice at the his­tor­i­cally black Bene­dict Col­lege in Columbia, S.C., by pro­mot­ing a bi­par­ti­san crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form bill he signed in 2018 while bring­ing on stage sev­eral peo­ple re­leased from prison as a re­sult of the over­haul.

If those ges­tures were meant to ap­peal to black vot­ers, many say he did as much to alien­ate them. The au­di­ence was hand-picked and only 10 Bene­dict students were in­vited. Seven at­tended.

Those who were there heard the pres­i­dent harshly crit­i­cize the record of his pre­de­ces­sor, Barack Obama. Trump in­sists that his ad­min­is­tra­tion has done more to help black peo­ple than any other pres­i­dent “in the his­tory of our coun­try.”

In Atlanta, Trump is ex­pected to talk record­low un­em­ploy­ment rates for black Amer­i­cans, as well as the fact that his ad­min­is­tra­tion has in­creased fed­eral fund­ing for his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties by 14.3%. He also likely will men­tion some of his high-profile black sup­port­ers, like King’s niece, Ge­or­gia’s Alveda King, and Bruce Lev­ell, a Dun­woody jew­eler, who ran Trump’s black out­reach group in 2016.

The pres­i­dent’s de­trac­tors have been quick to point to his at­tacks on Obama and other black lead­ers, his slow­ness to de­nounce white su­prem­a­cists in Char­lottesvill­e, Va., and his claim that U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ dis­trict in metro Atlanta is in “hor­ri­ble shape and fall­ing apart.” While Lewis’ 5th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict had higher un­em­ploy­ment and poverty rates than the na­tional and state av­er­ages, it also has a higher rate of ed­u­ca­tion at­tain­ment and is home to Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines.

He also ac­cused Lewis, who re­peat­edly put him­self in harm’s way while protest­ing for civil rights and had his skull frac­tured dur­ing a march, of be­ing “all talk” and “no ac­tion.”

But, how­ever small his black sup­port now, those who stand with the pres­i­dent be­lieve it would grow if black vot­ers looked at what he has done.

Don­ald Trump

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