By Emily Stephenson
DETROIT (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stepped up his bid to win over minority voters by addressing a largely black church in Detroit on Saturday and calling for a new civil rights agenda to support African-Americans.
As scores of protesters outside chanted “No justice, no peace,” Trump said he wanted to make Detroit – a predominantly African-American city which recently emerged from bankruptcy – the economic envy of the world by bringing back companies from abroad.
Trump separately met with about 100 community and church leaders, his campaign said, in his latest push to peel away minority voters from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
His outreach to minorities over recent weeks comes as he seeks to improve his chances in the Nov. 8 election and shake off months of offending the sensibilities of black and Hispanic voters with his hard line on immigration and rough-hewn rhetoric.
“I fully understand that the African American community is suffering from discrimination and that there are many wrongs that must still be made right,” Trump said at the church which was half-full. “I want to make America prosperous for everyone. I want to make this city the economic envy of the world, and we can do that.”
His address of over 10 minutes at the Great Faith Ministries International church received moments of applause, including when he said Christian faith is not the past, but the present and the future.
Accompanying Trump to the church was Ben Carson, the former Republican presidential hopeful who grew up in the city and whose childhood neighborhood Trump visited on Saturday.
Trump has argued that his emphasis on job creation would help minority communities in a way that Democrats have failed to. But Clinton has accused Trump of aligning himself with racists.
Opinion polls show Trump has low support among minorities.
“I believe we need a civil rights agenda for our time, one that ensures the rights to a great education, so important, and the right to live in a good-paying job and one that you love to go to every morning,” Trump said.
“That can happen. We need to bring our companies back,” he added.
Emma Lockridge, 63, said as she entered the church that she found his comments about Mexicans and Muslims “hateful.”
“That’s my major reservation with Mr. Trump is how he’s treated those particular sets of people,” said Lockridge, who is retired and an environmental activist.
But she said she also had concerns about Clinton’s support in the 1990s for crime legislation signed by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, which many black Americans say contributed to high incarceration rates in their communities.
Vicki Dobbins, an activist protesting outside, said she was disappointed the church asked Trump to speak.
“I believe that Trump coming to Detroit is a joke, and I’m ashamed of the pastor who invited him,” she said. “In my opinion, he stabbed everyone in the back.”
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Additional reporting by Emily Flitter in New York and Tim Branfalt in Detroit; Editing by Leslie Adler and W Simon)