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Presidential candidates make their pitch to voters at Detroit NAACP convention


Ten presidential candidates, nine Democrats and one Republican, made their cases to voters at the NAACP’s national convention in Detroit Wednesday.

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar took the stage at a voter forum moderated by White House correspondent April Ryan. Former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, and former Texas State Rep. Beto O’Rourke rounded out the Democrats in the field. Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld was the sole Republican there.

The discussion ran the gamut, with a focus on topics related to racial justice and civil rights. But some of the members of Congress were asked to address Robert Mueller’s concurrent testimony on Capitol Hill, and whether they support starting impeachment proceedings for President Donald Trump. NAACP members passed a resolution calling for Trump’s impeachment this week.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren supports that too. She said that after reading Mueller’s report, “I didn’t stick my finger into the air and ask about the politics. I did not hesitate. I read it, I knew what it said, and I concluded first, that this is a man who has broken the law, and he should be impeached.”

“The responsibility of the Congress of the United States of America, when a President breaks the law, is to bring impeachment charges against that President.”

Warren also talked about housing, and the decline of African American homeownership in cities like Detroit after the foreclosure crisis. She called for federal investment in more than three million new housing units, and setting money aside for first time homebuyer assistancein hard-hit and historically-redlined neighborhoods.

California Senator Kamala Harris had a similar proposal for down payment assistance in those areas. She also discussed the U.S. Justice Department’s recent decision not to charge the New York City Police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner, noting that the department bypassed the recommendation of its own civil rights division in declining to press charges.

Harris said the civil rights division will “have priority” if she’s elected. “In a Harris administration, we will require independent investigations of these cases to ensure that there is justice unimpeded by bias, unimpeded by prior relationships,” she said.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who’s been dogged by accusations of not attending to racially-biased policing in his city, said he has a comprehensive “Douglass Plan” (named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass) to combat systemic racial inequality.

“As an urban mayor of a diverse city seeking to do the right thing, I have also encountered the limits and the pressures of our lack, nationwide, of systems and structures that make it possible for everyone to succeed,” Buttigieg said.

“It took intention to create the kinds of inequalities that we’re living through right now. It will therefore take intention and resources to reverse those inequalities. And I’m determined to do that, because if we do not tackle systemic racism in my lifetime, I’m convinced that it will unravel the American project in our lifetime.”

Secretary Julian Castro touted his police reform plan, which includes a new “national use of force standard that says an officer has to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives before they use lethal force.” He also noted that “I was the first candidate to go to Flint, and to say that we need to put forward resources to eliminate lead as a major public health threat.”

Biden also worked to establish his civil rights bona fides. He defended his now-controversial vote for the 1994 Crime Bill, calling it a genuine effort to confront a “gigantic epidemic of violence in America, particularly in African American communities.”

Biden conceded the bill led to soaring incarceration rates, but says efforts to tinker with the legislation were blocked by Republicans in Congress.  “We have now a systemic problem, and too many African Americans in jail right now. So I think we should switch the whole focus from what we’re doing in terms of incarceration to rehabilitation,” he said.

Referring to other concerns about his civil rights record, Biden pointed out that President Barack Obama vetted him as his running mate, and, “I doubt where he would have picked me if this accusation about my being wrong on civil rights is correct.” He concluded by telling a cheering crowd: ““I love ya. Look me over. I need your help.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, when asked why he doesn’t support the idea of providing American descendants of slaves with reparations, said he favors the idea of “massive investment” in poor communities to address racial disparities in health, wealth and education.

“Here is my fear,” Sanders said of reparations. “The Congress gives the African American community a 20-thousand dollar check, and says thank you, that took care of slavery, we don’t have to worry about anything more. I think that’s wrong. I want to build, rebuild the distressed communities in America.”

Sanders also called Trump a “racist” and a “pathological liar,” and said he’s “doing what demagogues have always done” to foment fear and hatred along racial, ethnic and religious lines.

“The antidote to what Trump is doing in my view is exactly opposite, and what our campaign is about, is trying to bring people together around an agenda that works for all of us, not just the 1%,” Sanders said.

Governor Bill Weld, the sole Republican to take the stage (President Trump declined an invitation to speak), also called Trump a “raging racist.”

“Now the Republican Party in Washington, the national Republican party have a choice. A lot of them like to think it’s a political choice. But it’s not a political choice, it’s a moral choice,” said Weld, who also said he thinks the Mueller report justifies an impeachment inquiry.  “Unless the Republican Party expressly rejects Donald Trump, they will be known as the racist party in America.”

The NAACP convention wraps up Wednesday. Leaders of the historic civil rights organization have said they hope to leave with momentum to mobilize Black voters ahead of the 2020 election, and remind Democrats in particular that Black voters can’t be ignored.

Detroit NAACP President Rev. Wendell Anthony said a reporter asked him: “What do Black people want?”

“We want a life like everybody else! This ain’t difficult,” Anthony said. “We want what everybody else has. We want to be able to have a good house, a good community, good schools, good education, live safely, and when we get stopped by the police we don’t want to have go home in a box. We want the same damn thing everybody else wants.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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