“What do you have to lose?” That’s Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s message to African-American voters with two months until the general election.
Ahead of an appearance at a predominantly black church in Detroit on Saturday, Trump visited Philadelphia Friday for a private meeting with city African-American leaders.
The roundtable at The View, an event hall on North Broad Street, was organized quietly by the Trump campaign, but he got a boisterous un-welcome from protesters with Black Lives Matter, the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice and the immigrant advocacy group Juntos.
“He paints a picture of African-Americans as being criminals, unemployed, living in abandoned communities,” said Paula Peebles, is an activist from North Philadelphia. “That’s why we out here — we want to send a message that he won’t get one vote out of Philadelphia County.”
The protesters also had a message to send to those who participated in the meeting, which was closed to the media. Protesters followed participants as they made their way out of the building and down North Broad Street, chanting “shame on you!”
James Jones, a Republican candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat, said Trump directly addressed his critics who say his recent statements about black Americans show he is racist.
“I think everyone would be impressed to see and to hear that he’s not this closet bigot everyone has been making comments about,” Jones said. “In fact, he’s a family man. He’s a Christian man. We all had a chance to pray. We had to talk about some of the issues that are very important to all of us.”
About 14 black leaders gathered for the roundtable — including a handful of Democrats, according to two participants. They sat around a conference table and talked over a lunch of meatballs, tilapia with crabmeat, deviled eggs filled with curried chicken (something Trump’s Secret Service detail is apparently fond of), and carrot cake. Calvin Tucker, a Republican ward leader from Mount Airy, moderated the discussion, which he said focused on “urban policy.”
“[Trump] went down the list about how many African-Americans on welfare, how many African-Americans are in prison,” said Renee Amoore, deputy chair of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party. “We said, ‘We hear that. So what can you do to make a difference?'”
While Trump didn’t get into specifics, participants said, he touted his plan to bring back manufacturing jobs. Better employment opportunities will cut down on crime, he said.
Meanwhile, supporters of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton gathered at her North Philly campaign headquarters to counter Trump and his recent appeal to black voters: “You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”
“I don’t believe in sugar-coating poverty, but he’s exploiting it,” said Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym.
Clinton supporters argued the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda, which includes criminal justice reforms efforts and raising the minimum wage, will do more for communities of color.
But Amoore said she agrees with Trump.
Democrats have “been talking about that forever, and it still hasn’t changed anything,” she said. “So my thing is, when is it going to happen?”