DETROIT, United States (AFP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump promised African-Americans prosperity and jobs Saturday in a gently delivered speech to a black congregation in a US city famous as a symbol of economic and urban decline.
Setting aside his usual stridency, Trump adopted a humble tone, telling his audience at the Good Faith Ministries International church that he came to listen, expressing sympathy for the out-of-work young men he had seen on boarded-up Detroit streets.
“Nothing is more sad than when we sideline young black men with unfulfilled potential, tremendous potential,” Trump said, speaking from notes.
“Our whole country loses out without the energy of these folks. We’re one nation. And when anyone hurts, we all hurt together,” he said.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 3, 2016
Trump was received courteously and rewarded with occasional bursts of applause as he set about trying to allay the deep skepticism of African-Americans who have swung overwhelmingly behind his rival, Hillary Clinton.
Blacks account for 12 percent of the US electorate, and Trump, who trails in the polls, recently has sought gingerly to widen his base.
‘Devil’s in the pulpit’
Before the speech, protesters chanting “Dump Trump” and “We’re going to church” tried to push through police barriers to gain entrance.
“The devil’s in the pulpit,” shouted Wyoman Mitchell, one of about 150 protesters who were pushed back by police on foot and on horseback in the tense encounter.
Church pastor Bishop Wayne Jackson had invited the New York billionaire to attend the fellowship service, and make some remarks.
Trump also sat for an interview with Jackson that will be aired at a later date. The New York Times reported that Jackson submitted questions in advance, but it was not known whether the two men went off script.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in to. I didn’t know. Was this going to be nice? Was this going to be wild?” Trump said of the interview, in remarks to the congregation.
“He’s a great gentleman and a very smart guy. I just hope you don’t lose him to Hollywood.”
‘Nation too divided’
The church appearance contrasted sharply with Trump’s previous crude appeals for black support.
“What do you have to lose?” he said nearly two weeks ago, rhetorically addressing African-Americans in a speech before a white audience in Ohio.
“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 of the Democrats.
Trump has been faulted for largely ignoring the black community during his campaign, and bypassing appearances before black churches and organizations in favor of rowdy, largely white rallies.
But in Detroit, he extolled African-Americans’ contributions to America and the moralizing force of the country’s black churches.
“I am here today to listen to your message and I hope my presence here will also help your voice to reach new audiences in our country,” he said.
“Our nation is too divided. We talk past each other, not to each other and those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community and learn what is going on,” he said.
“I’m here today to learn so we can together remedy injustice in any form and so that we can also remedy economics so that the African-American community can benefit economically through jobs and income and so many other different ways.
“Our political system has failed the people and works only to enrich itself. I want to reform that system so that it works for you, everybody in this room,” he said.
The African-American electorate traditionally leans heavily Democratic.
In 2012, about 93% of black voters backed Obama — an overwhelming enthusiasm that Clinton appears to have kept alive, taking 90% of the black vote in her primary contest against Bernie Sanders.
Detroit has the highest percentage of black residents — more than 80% — 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.
“I fully understand that the African-American community has suffered from discrimination and that there are many wrongs that must still be made right. They will be made right. I want to make this city the economic envy of the world,” Trump said.