DETROIT -- Toni McIlwain believes that as a candidate for president, Donald Trump has a right to go anywhere he wants. But, she says, it takes a lot of nerve for him to visit Detroit.
Many black people in the city, she says, are still stung by the Republican presidential nominee’s visit to Michigan last month, when he went before a mostly white audience and declared, “You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed.” He asked, rhetorically, what blacks had to lose by voting for him instead of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“People picked up on” Trump saying “you’re all just crap,” said McIlwain, who for years ran a community center that offered education and drug prevention programs in one of Detroit’s most distressed neighborhoods.
“He generalized the total black community. How dare you talk to us like that and talk about us like that?” she said.
Trump was going to Detroit to make what appeared to be aroughly two months before the general election.
Unlike his usual campaign stops where he confidently addressed mostly white crowds that supported him and his plans for the country, Trump’s visit was intended to be more intimate.
He attended a service Saturday at an African-American church, surrounded by a coterie of campaign surrogates, including spokesperson Katrina Pierson,and Omarosa Manigault, Trump’s director of African-American outreach and a former contestant on his reality television show.
Trump addressed the largely black audience during the church service, laying out what he proposed as a “civil rights agenda for our time,” focusing on education, safety, and job opportunities. He also promised to help “build and rebuild Detroit.”
“I want to reform that system so that it works for you,” Trump said at the church. “I believe that true reform can come outside the system.”
“The America of tomorrow will be one of unity, togetherness, and peace, and perhaps we can add the word, prosperity, OK?” Trump said. “Prosperity.”
Trump was scheduled to record a private interview with the church’s pastor, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, and take some kind of tour with his former rival, Carson.
Carson, who has been advising Trump’s campaign, told The Associated Press that the trip would serve as an opportunity for the GOP nominee to see the challenges residents face as he refines his policy plans.
“It always makes much more of an impression, I think, when you see things firsthand,” he said.
But the risky nature of the visit was underscored by what appeared to be unusually cautious planning by the Trump campaign.
On Thursday, The New York Times published what it said wasin his interview with Jackson, along with prepared answers.
Jackson told CNN on Friday that he “didn’t see anything wrong” with clearing his questions with the campaign and hadn’t offered softballs. Trump’s intention was to meet and speak with local residents while he’s in town “because he’s been criticized,” Jackson said, “for preaching to African-Americans from a backdrop of white people.”
Protesters waited for Trump outside the church Saturday, where some tried to push through a barrier to the parking lot but were stopped by church security and police. A few hundred protesters chanted, waved placards, but the tone at the rally did not seem tense.
Rev. Horace Sheffield who led a march from his church blocks away said: “I walked up to the gate and said I was going to church. I was immediately confronted and was told I needed a ticket. You need a ticket to get in church? Anybody who is in this church should be appalled. I love Bishop Wayne T, but to not let the public in?”
Among the members of the clergy denouncing Trump’s visit was the Rev. Lawrence Glass, who said Trump’s heart was not into helping blacks.
Glass said Trump represents “politics of fear and hate” and that “minorities of all kinds have much to lose taking a chance on someone like” Trump.
For Trump,. Most polls show his support among black voters is in the low single digits. Many blacks view some of his campaign rhetoric as insulting, and racist.
Detroit is about 80 percent black, and many are struggling. Nearly 40 percent of residents are impoverished, compared with about 15 percent of Americans overall. Detroit’s median household income is just over $26,000 - not even half the median for the nation, according to the census.
The city’s unemployment rate has dropped, but is still among the highest in the nation. And public school students have lagged behind their peers on statewide standardized tests.
Trump was received warmly Friday by a group of African-American business, civic and religious leaders during a discussion in Philadelphia. But others, like Ryan Boyer of the city’s Labor District Council, rebuked him, saying Trump “has no prescription to help inner-city America.”
In Detroit, that’s how Donna Lewis, 59, feels.
“You don’t invite the devil into your house,” Lewis said. “He’s a racist. He can’t help nobody. I don’t think he has enough ability to run the country.”
Lewis also believes Saturday’s visit shows Trump’s desperation as election day draws closer and he needs the black vote.
“He left us out and he wants to make up for that,” she said. “But it’s a little too late.”