Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump struck a compassionate tone when addressing black churchgoers in Detroit at the weekend, part of a late bid to soften the edges of an abrasive presidential campaign weeks before the US election.
The visit to Great Faith Ministries International, in the heart of a city famous as a symbol
of economic and urban decline, was his first to an African- American church, according to the pastor.
Trump has faced complaints of racial insensitivity, with his provocative anti-immigrant rhetoric, his false accusations that President Barack Obama was born outside the United States, and an aggressive America-first platform seen as catering to white voters.
While the Republican nominee called for “a civil rights agenda for our time”, he stopped short of outlining policy specifics on how to address inner-city poverty and the challenges facing minorities.
“Our nation is too divided,” he said, setting aside his usual stridency, and adopting a humble tone.
He told the audience that he had come to listen to their concerns, expressing sympathy for the out-of-work young men he had seen on 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.”
Trump was received courteously and rewarded with occasional bursts of applause as he set about trying to allay the deep scepticism of African- Americans, who have swung overwhelmingly behind his rival, Hillary Clinton.
Blacks account for 12% of the US electorate, and Trump, who trails in the polls with 66 days before the election, recently has sought to broaden his appeal.
Before the speech, protesters chanting “Dump Trump” tried to breach barriers to gain entrance but were pushed back by police.
“The devil’s in the pulpit!” shouted Wyoman Mitchell, one of several dozen protesters.
Rick McGowan, who works in Detroit schools, described Trump’s outreach as “an insult to black people”.
“He’s never come to our rescue,” he said.
“Why are we supposed to believe him now?”
Church pastor Bishop Wayne Jackson had invited New York billionaire Trump to attend the fellowship service. – AFP