Kamala Harris to Detroiters: ‘They know when we vote, things change’

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris opened a day of campaigning in Michigan on Tuesday by stopping in Flint and visiting Black-owned small businesses, while later warning Black voters in Detroit about the Russian government’s preying on their distrust to interfere in U.S. elections.

During a Tuesday afternoon stop at Headliners Barbershop in Detroit, Harris met with Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, Detroit NAACP President Wendell Anthony and other members of the Detroit community to discuss issues ranging from police funding to jobs to the coronavirus pandemic. 

At the outdoor event, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate warned that people in leadership positions across the country repeatedly ignored America’s history with race, but argued that Russian interference in 2016 exploited Black people’s voting history. 

“In 2016, they targeted black voters — it’s part of the report  —  and you know why?” said Harris, the junior senator from California. “Because they knew that they could try and tap into a righteous distrust of the system, but with misinformation so people would be turned off by it.”

She criticized President Donald Trump for sounding the alarm about mail-in voting, arguing that it only served to spread mistrust of the election system. 

“Why do you think they are trying to suppress and to make it difficult or to confuse Black people around voting?” Harris asked. “The answer is simple: Because they know when we vote things change.”

African-American voters overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates. But a slight turnout decline in Detroit four years ago was blamed in part for Trump’s 10,704-vote victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton even as she won the city 95%-3%.

Gilchrist noted that several of his acquaintances who have contracted COVID-19 in recent months have been Black men, underscoring the importance of this election for that demographic. 

“Joe Biden specifically has never turned his back on the city of Detroit,” Gilchrist said. “That’s what we’re voting for in a partner in the White House. Not someone who insults every elected leader in our state like we have right now.”

Harris said the nation needs to “reimagine public safety” and shed the idea that the only way to make a community safer is to put more officers on the street.

“If we want to build safe communities, we need to invest in the health of communities,” Harris said. 

Before stopping in Michigan’s largest city, the U.S. senator from California visited Flint, where she had a closed meeting with unidentified Flint community leaders and went on a 45-minute walking tour of businesses. The conversations during the tour seemed to focus on what the businesses have done to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a pool report.

“We don’t lack for good ideas. We don’t lack for entrepreneurial spirit,” said Harris, according to the pool report.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., greets supporters as she visits different businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday in Flint, Mich.

In Flint, she stopped by MagnifiClips, Comma Bookstore and Bedrock Apparel. She also bought items at the Flint Farmers Market. She was joined by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Deanna Nolan, a Flint native and former Women’s National Basketball Association player.

At the market, Harris purchased a box of apples, two ears of corn and a box of jalapeños, according to the pool report.

Before the tour, Harris met with Flint community leaders who discussed “water, the economy, the pandemic and other issues.”

Flint is still recovering from a lead-contaminated water crisis that resulted after the city’s water source was switched in April 2014.

City residents have been skeptical of Flint’s water quality despite testing showing lead levels that comply with federal standards and then-President Barack Obama’s sipping of city tap water in May 2016. Residents still drink bottled water and directly drinking out of the tap water is discouraged. Since 2015, voters have replaced two mayors. 

“Sen. Harris affirmed that both she and Vice President Biden believe that everyone in America has a fundamental right to drink clean water and breathe clean air,” the campaign said of the discussion.

Flint is in Genesee County, one of Michigan’s largest counties and a place where Democrats want to do better than they did in 2016.

In 2012, then-President Barack Obama won the county by 28 percentage points. In 2016, Clinton beat Trump there by 9 percentage points. 

In response to the Harris visit, Paris Dennard, the Trump campaign’s senior communications adviser for Black media affairs, contended Democrats’ “radical policies” have “failed Black Americans for decades.”

“Because of the president’s promises made and kept to Black voters, our Black Voices for Trump coalition is growing and families across the country are energized for four more years of a president who will fight for us,” Dennard said.

Trump was just outside of Michigan in Toledo for a rally on Monday night.

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed

cmauger@detroitnews.com