Racial inequality in the United States took center stage this year and became a dominant topic of national debate after the police killing of Black Americans sparked months of widespread protests and led the nation to demand racial justice and police reform.
The riots have forced US President Donald Trump, a Republican who is standing for re-election on a law and order platform, and his main opponent, Democratic candidate Joe Biden, to grapple with the complex issue of race in America and trying to appeal to black voters.
Less than two months before the election, amid a pandemic and record unemployment rate, it remains uncertain whether black Americans will be encouraged to vote in large numbers ̵
A recent poll shows that Biden far outstrips Trump among black voters with 78 percent support.
“Most black voters will support Joe Biden,” said Ravi Perry, professor and chairman of the Political Science Institute at Howard University, a historically black university.
“But there are differences in enthusiasm,” Perry tells Al Jazeera, “where black women, for example, have a lot more enthusiasm for Biden and a lot of young people support him, but with far less enthusiasm.”
Earlier this month, both candidates visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, a battlefield state, and the site of the recent riot after police shot and killed Jacob Blake, a black man who remains in hospital after being shot seven times in the back by a white police officer while authorities tried to arrest him in late August.
After a private meeting with Blake and his family, Biden spoke at a local church in Kenosha about how recent events would help Americans grapple with centuries of systemic racism.
In contrast, Trump did not mention Blake by name, refused to recognize systemic racism and instead blew up the protesters and offered his unequivocal support to law enforcement agencies.
Data shows that black voters have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party since at least the 1960s, when the party passed civil rights laws that banned racial segregation and banned racial discrimination from voting.
But black turnout, which rose in the 2008 and 2012 elections when the US elected and then re-elected the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, declined in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic presidential candidate.
More profoundly, levels of cynicism are increasing among black voters, pollers have argued, especially among young and male voters, pointing to 2016 when Clinton lost to Trump on a six percentage point decline among black voters, which was reflected in the Battlefield conditions proved critical.
Trump’s campaign this year has sought to target black voters, especially black male voters, and improved his results for 2016 when 8 percent of blacks voted for him.
According to a recent poll, 13 percent of black voters said they would vote for Trump in this election.
Democratic pollster Terrance Woodbury said, according to the latest data he has compiled, about half of black voters believe the Democratic Party takes black voters for granted and may choose to stay home or vote for Trump.
“What we saw at the Republican National Convention was a very open attempt to speak directly to the issues that are most important to black men: criminal justice reform and unemployment,” said Woodbury.
On the first night of the convention in August, the only black Republican Senator in the United States, Tim Scott of South Carolina, shared his personal success story: “Our family went to Congress in a life of cotton,” he said. And Trump apologized to Jon Ponder, a black convicted criminal turned criminal justice activist.
During the four day event, several other black speakers took the stage, including NFL players and a civil rights activist, and some touted Biden’s Gaffe as he said, “If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or Trump, then. ” You are not black “
“The course of this election year will show that black men are not a marginal part of his (Trump’s) strategy, but a path to victory,” Woodbury told Al Jazeera, “and he leans on it.”
And yet for many it is a motivation in itself to elect Trump from office.
Trump promoted the “childbirth movement” claiming that Obama was not born in the US. He refused to condemn white supremacists, and more recently, reportedly calling blacks “too stupid” to vote for him, according to his estranged former attorney Michael Cohen.
James Lance Taylor, a professor at the University of San Francisco, said many blacks will vote for Biden for no other reason than “to cope with the emergency of removing Donald Trump from office”.
“Defund the Police”
Many of the protesters who took to the streets after the police murder of George Floyd in May called for “devaluing the police” in order to divert funds from police departments and prisons in favor of investing in social services and review what is happening happened crimes require a militarized response.
Biden said: “I don’t support defusing the police.” Instead, he has proposed a $ 300 million investment in the police force that depends on officials who reflect the diversity of their communities.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in July, 70 percent of black Americans support or strongly support reducing police budgets. Despite its popularity with black Americans, strategists said if Biden endorsed the idea, he would run the risk of losing the support of moderate older white voters, a major demographic.
“Failing the police may sound pretty good on Twitter, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to a lot of voters, including African-Americans,” Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist told Al Jazeera.
“They want better policing, they want smarter policing, they don’t want the police to be defused,” Manley said.
Rather than accepting “Defund the Police”, Biden nodded to the black voters by choosing Senator Kamala Harris as his fellow campaigner. This made her the first black woman to be nominated on a ticket to a major party.
“Black people noticed and loved it,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund.
“There’s a part of our community that thinks Kamala Harris’ records as district attorney and attorney general are shaky,” he said of her years as a prosecutor when she accepted a “Top Cop” label. “But the general feeling is definitely that this is a step in the right direction, a feeling that he recognizes us.”
“Now we know better”
The coronavirus pandemic, a disease that killed more than 192,000 Americans and disproportionately affected black communities, has created additional uncertainty about how many and who can cast their votes in November.
Most states said they would expand their mail-in voting systems in light of health concerns about crowds and long lines. It remains unclear what effect voter turnout will have.
But for most, Albright says, the desire to see Trump out of office casts an urgency on the importance of the vote this year that will outweigh all other considerations.
“Even among people who are not enthusiastic about Biden, people are clearer, now we know better,” he said. “We see what a Trump presidency looks like and how it affects our lives and our health.”