In the hours after the deadly attack on police officers in Dallas, Donald Trump offered his “thoughts and prayers” for all the victims of the week’s violence—including two black men killed by the police in separate incidents in Minnesota and Louisiana.
Less than two weeks later, there are few signs of sympathy for African-American victims of police shootings inside Trump’s presidential nominating convention.
A speaking lineup arranged by Trump’s campaign, facing an overwhelmingly white audience in a majority-black city, has repeatedly belittled the black community’s frustration. There have been almost no references to black victims of police brutality.
The program has instead featured people like prominent Black Lives Matter critic David Clarke, a Wisconsin sheriff who drew a massive ovation by declaring “Blue Lives Matter.”
The “Blue Lives Matter” call in particular aggravates many minority voters, in Ohio and elsewhere, who make up a growing segment of the electorate.
“This entire approach, the Trump approach, has been about a return to the days of white supremacy,” said Cleveland NAACP President Michael Nelson. “You don’t want to alienate a significant portion of your voting population.”
Lynne Patton, an African-American employee of the Eric Trump Foundation, offered a more nuanced message Wednesday night.
“As a minority myself, I personally pledge to you Donald Trump knows that your life matters,” she said. “He knows that my life matters. He knows that LGBT lives matter. He knows that veterans lives matter. He knows that blue lives matter.”
Trump’s standing with minority voters stands near record lows as he prepares to face the most diverse electorate in the nation’s history.
The New York billionaire earned the support of 0% of African-Americans in Ohio and Pennsylvania in a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week. Nationally, a July Associated Press-GfK poll found just 4% of blacks and 19% of Hispanics would support the New York billionaire if the election were held today.
Yet African-American delegates inside the Cleveland convention hall saw little reason for Trump, or the Republican Party, to change their approach.
More than anything, the black community wants jobs, said Virginia delegate Bill Cleveland. “What does Trump talk about? Jobs,” he said.
Attending his fourth convention, Cleveland said he was one of just four African-American delegates at his first. “I think there are 80 of us now,” he said. “The party is growing.”
There are more than 2,400 delegates at this week’s convention.
Beyond the convention walls, Trump’s aggressive rhetoric has fueled deep distrust by minority voters.
He called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals in his announcement speech last year. He was slow to disavow a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard earlier in the spring—later blaming a bad earpiece. And on the opening day of this week’s convention, he awarded primetime speaking slots to victims of crime perpetrated by immigrants in the country illegally.
Trump aide Ed Brookover said the “Blue Lives Matter” call isn’t inconsistent with Trump’s desire to attract more African-American support.
“There are many ways to demonstrate concern for different communities,” he said. “And we think we’re doing a good job of that here.”
Morris Thomas, an African-America delegate from California, said he doesn’t want Trump to pander to minorities.
“My issues are not identified with race,” he said, citing a personal focus on the economy and national security.
“Do I think the party should change its focus so we can pander to voters? No, I don’t,” Thomas said. “If the other side wins, the other side wins.”