Police struggled to hold back protesters on Saturday outside a Detroit church hosting a visit by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is on a charm offensive to allay skepticism of wary African American voters.
“The devil’s in the pulpit,” shouted Wyoman Mitchell, one of about 150 protesters who charged police barricades outside the black Great Faith Ministries International church. Chanting “Dump Trump” and “We’re going to church,” the protesters attempted to push over the metal barricades to gain entry to the suburban church, but were impeded by police on horseback and on foot.
It was unclear whether Trump was in the church during the commotion. Reporters were kept out of the church, except those traveling with the candidate. Church pastor Wayne Jackson had invited the New York billionaire to attend a fellowship service, and possibly make some remarks at the end. The visit is a high-profile stop in Trump’s recent bid to offset the overwhelming advantage his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton enjoys among African American voters, who make up 12 per cent of the electorate.
The charm offensive has been met with skepticism, but some analysts say it could make a difference in certain swing states. His pitch so far has been a crude appeal to self-interest.
“What do you have to lose?” he said, addressing African Americans in a speech in Ohio less than two weeks ago to an overwhelmingly white audience. “They don’t care about you. They just like you once every four years – get your vote and then they say: ‘Bye, bye!'” he said. To bolster his case, Trump points at the Democratic stance on immigration, claiming his rival would rather give jobs to new refugees than unemployed black youth. The African-American electorate traditionally leans heavily Democratic.
In 2012, about 93 per cent of black voters backed Obama – an overwhelming enthusiasm that Clinton appears to have kept alive, taking 90 per cent of the black vote in her primary contest against Bernie Sanders. Detroit has the highest percentage of black residents – more than 80 per cent – of any large American city. Many neighborhoods have been hollowed out by decades of “white flight,” in which Caucasian families left downtown and midtown for more affluent suburbs.