Ten presidential candidates addressed African American voters at the 110th National Association for the Advancement of Colored People National Convention on Wednesday morning at the Cobo Center in Detroit.
The presidential candidates forum included nine Democratic candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Cory Booker; South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Julián Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Sen. Kamala Harris; Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Bill Weld, a former Massachusetts governor challenging President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, was also present.
Trump has said he “very much wanted” to attend the convention but could not because of changes to the date and format. He said he agreed to deliver a speech, but NAACP wanted to engage in a question-and-answer session.
In a press release ahead of the event, Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO, emphasized the importance of ensuring Black voters are able to make their voices heard and counted.
“The upcoming 2020 presidential election is one of the most pivotal elections in our lifetime and will be heavily influenced by the Black electorate,” Johnson wrote. “We must ensure we’re electing officials who will help us set policy priorities that will bring about positive change for communities of color.”
In 2016, Black voter turnout decreased for the first time in 20 years, after surpassing white voter turnout for the first time in 2008 and then in 2012. In 2016, 42,598 fewer Detroiters cast their ballots than in 2012 — and Trump won Michigan with fewer than 11,000 votes.
Each candidate was given 10 minutes to appeal to Black Americans in the audience and watching at home: two minutes of opening remarks, seven minutes of answering questions posed by moderator CNN journalist April Ryan and one minute for their closing statement.
Warren addressed the audience first, discussing her housing plan, which features a “first-of-its-kind” down payment assistance program for low-income families living in formerly redlined neighborhoods. This plan, Warren said, will help more Black families become homeowners.
When prompted on how she will pay for this plan and others, Warren pointed to her proposed “wealth tax,” a yearly 2 percent tax on household net worth up to $50 million and a 3 percent tax on net worth above $1 billion. She called this a tax on the top 1/10 of the top 1 percent of income earners in America.
“A country that elects a man like Donald Trump has serious problems," Warren said. “Yes I have a lot of plans, but if you want to get something done, you better have a plan.”
Booker talked about the importance of Black representation in government, saying he pushed for increased diversity in the Senate and will ensure Black Americans are at the table when decisions are made about their communities.
“African American communities will determine the destiny of our nation,” Booker said. “As your candidate, I will make sure that when we come to communities like Detroit, we just don’t talk to people, but we invest in those communities.”
Addressing the issue of police brutality, Booker said the criminal justice system is deeply biased along racial lines. He highlighted the problem is widespread, noting there are thousands of situations never spotlighted by the media.
Unlike the two candidates before him, O’Rourke stood up and walked to the front of the stage to deliver his opening remarks, which told the story of voting rights in his home state of Texas. O’Rourke also focused on education, promising to create a permanent fund for education equity, invest in diversity among teachers and restructure debt forgiveness.
When asked about the biggest misconception surrounding him, O’Rourke emphasized his serious commitment to contend for the presidency. He drew on his previous experience as the underdog when he first ran for Congress in 2012.
“No one gave us a snowball’s chance in Houston of being successful in that race, but believing in the people of our community … we won that race and then in Congress delivered for our constituents,” O’Rourke said.
Following O’Rourke’s lead, Buttigieg stood to address the audience, stating he is running for president because America is running out of time. Calling white supremacy the crisis of our time, he claimed systemic racism made the Trump presidency possible and could “unravel the American project.”
Buttigieg discussed his recently revealed Douglass Plan, a series of proposals including health care and criminal justice reform meant to tackle racist structures and systems and empower Black Americans.
“We have learned the hard way as a country that if you take a racist structure or policy and you replace it with a neutral one, that is not enough to deliver justice and equality because harm compounds," Buttigieg said.
When asked about tensions in his city of South Bend, Ind., over the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer, Buttigieg talked about improvements he made as mayor to enforce accountability in the police force. He said he will invest in the Department of Justice if elected president.
Castro called Trump “the biggest identity politician to come along in the last fifty years,” claiming Trump divides America along racial and ethnic lines. Ryan mentioned Castro was the first candidate to reveal policy proposals addressing issues among Black communities.
Castro also noted he was the first candidate to go to Flint. He stated he is the only candidate thus far to publish a police reform plan, which he said includes demilitarizing police forces and training to end racial profiling. Additionally, he mentioned his education plan includes eliminating police in schools that enforce discipline, often towards young Black men.
Castro addressed what he said is the rise of white nationalism and identity politics in the alt-right.
“I don’t want to make America anything again — I don’t want to go backward, I want to go forward,” Castro said.
Sanders criticized Trump as a “racist” and “pathological liar” in his opening remarks. He said Trump exhibits typical demagogue behavior by “picking on minorities” to divide the country.
“I don't need to tell anybody in this room that we are living in an unprecedented moment in history,” Sanders said.
When asked if he supports reparations for slavery, Sanders said he supports a bill put forth by Senator Jim Clyburn to invest significant amounts of money into distressed communities.
“Here is my fear about reparations: that is Congress gives African American communities a $20,000 check and say, “Thank you, that took care of slavery, we don’t have to worry about it anything more,’” Sanders said.
Klobuchar was next, saying “it’s always fun to go after Bernie Sanders” to audience laughter. In addressing criminal justice reform, Klobuchar said she would require body cameras and push for increased diversity in all police forces.
“We have to admit that this criminal justice system is racist and go from there,” Klobuchar said.
In response to whether she would support reparations, Klobuchar also mentioned Clyburn’s bill as an alternative.
As Biden walked onstage, many in the audience gave him a standing ovation. Biden discussed his long-standing support for civil rights.
“You all brought me to the dance, and I’m still dancing with you,” Biden said.
Biden stated former President Barack Obama would not have picked Biden as his vice president if criticism of his civil rights record following the first debate were accurate. However, he emphasized his administration would not be a mere extension of the Obama presidency.
Discussing the criminal justice system, Biden said he wants to reform his 1994 “tough on crime” bill to focus on rehabilitation instead of incarceration.
If elected, Biden said he would introduce major reform of the entire immigration system on day one. He promised to provide a path to citizenship, guarantee citizenship for DREAMers and lift Trump’s “Muslim ban.”
Audience members once again gave Biden a standing ovation as he walked off the stage, and they continued to stand and applaud as Harris followed. Harris acknowledged the work of previous civil rights activists, exclaiming the audience are the leaders continuing their work.
“This is not a new fight for us,” Harris said. “We are up to the fight. We know what it's like to fight for equality and fairness and justice.”
Drawing on her experience as the former attorney general of California, Harris claimed the Mueller Report demonstrated clear obstruction of justice by Trump. She relied again on her legal knowledge to discuss the A$AP Rocky case, claiming Trump is misusing his power by “playing politics,” and called him a predator.
“It is their instinct and their nature to prey on those they perceive to be vulnerable,” Harris said. “And the other thing about predators? They're cowards. I am prepared to prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump.”
Additionally, Harris talked about her plans to fight mass incarceration by legalizing marijuana and decriminalizing low-level marijuana offenses.
Weld concluded the forum, calling his opponent, Trump, a “raging racist” in his opening remarks. He said the national Republican Party faces a choice.
“A lot of them think it is a political choice, but it’s a moral choice,” Weld said. “And unless the Republican Party in Washington expressly rejects the racism of Donald Trump, they’re going to be come to be universally viewed as the party of racism in America.”
Weld said he believes Trump obstructed justice and thinks the House of Representatives should start impeachment inquiry. However, Weld noted the process may not even finish by the time the elections are over.
Calling legislations on abortion in Alabama and Georgia “atrocious,” Weld stated he has been pro-choice since entering politics.
In his closing remarks, Weld emphasized a vote for him is a vote against Trump.
“I’m saying to people: You can vote against Donald Trump twice,” Weld said. “We can send a strong two-word message to Donald J. Trump as he packs his golf clubs: You’re fired.”