Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

‘We haven’t heard anything from a Democrat or Republican’

By 37ci3 May17,2024

DETROIT – On a rainy, overcast evening, a group of black men dressed in black, some with handguns on their hips and pamphlets in hand, marched down one of Detroit’s west side’s main thoroughfares to a stable location. a flow of handshakes and hugs.

“People know that we’re really into it. We’re seen out here in the community,” band frontman Zeek Williams said over the honks of passing cars and the ubiquitous Detroit colloquialism of “What’s up!”

“We have to be here,” Williams said. “We have to be here to step with our people, to make sure we’re dressing for the culture, as we mean it.”

Williams is the founder of New Era Detroit, a community-based organization that connects residents of the city’s most under-invested neighborhoods with much-needed resources. Needs include public safety, housing support, youth and political education programs, and the group does everything from armed patrols of crime hot spots to hosting massive community clean-up efforts and block parties that double as resource fairs. It always seeks to secure grants and public funds for redistribution to neighborhoods with the greatest need.

New Era Detroit hits the store.
Members of New Era Detroit tap into local businesses.NBC News

Williams describes New Era Detroit’s role as bridging the gap that often exists between the people and politicians in his city. It is not an overtly political group. But it’s a window into a key voter group that both parties are eyeing and perhaps misunderstanding ahead of the 2024 election: Black men.

Public opinion polls show that more black men are poised to win now than in past elections. They are addressed by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. But among Williams and others in his orbit, the battleground metropolis, there is a persistent sense that no one in the political world is trying to build real relationships with black people, especially black people like those in the New Era. Some are questioning not only who they will support for president, but whether they will vote at all.

“We are one of the main organizers in the city of Detroit. Literally, you’re going to be the closest thing to black people in this town,” Williams said. “But we haven’t heard from a Democrat or a Republican.”

Votes for acceptance

Men like them may feel overlooked in communities like theirs, in battleground states like Michigan, but they may have the power to determine who wins the White House in November. Both Democrats and Republicans know as much, competing in their own ways for the attention and votes of Black men.

New Era Detroit
Courtesy of New Era Detroit

Trump has controversially used criminal court cases and the release of his luxury signature gold sneaker to appeal to young black men.

“I was impeached a second time, a third time, a fourth time, and a lot of people said that’s why black people like me,” Trump said at a gala sponsored by black conservatives in South Carolina this year. they were very offended and discriminated against and actually treated me like I was being discriminated against.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has stepped up outreach to black voters. Late last month, Vice President Kamala Harris launched the “Economic Opportunity Tour,” a multi-city effort to reconnect with Biden’s Black support base and highlight what he has delivered.

“The data is clear,” Harris told NBC News during a stop in Atlanta. “Black men did not create less wealth than other populations in terms of economic opportunities and economic health.”

Harris continued the theme a week later during a visit to Detroit, where he told an audience: “Black wealth has increased 60% since 2019, so President Biden and I are clear: These are not just our achievements; they are yours. … This is the result of your enthusiasm, creativity and strength.”

And Biden sat down with popular Black radio host WVEE-FM’s Darian “Big Tigger” Morgan this week in Atlanta to talk about the Biden-Harris administration’s successes for black Americans and the electoral stakes.

“Look, Trump has hurt black people at every opportunity as president,” Biden said, pointing to unemployment rates, Trump’s tax cuts and Trump’s response to Covid-19 and its impact on Black Americans.

“The vote is your vote,” Biden said. “Very close elections, this last couple, and every vote counts.”

In the run-up to the election, the traditional alignment of black voters with the Democrats and Biden is showing signs of slipping.

Recent polls have found Trump in his teens or 20s among black voters — still well behind Biden, but well ahead of where he polled in 2020.

And there are significant breaks along generational and gender lines. Young black voters are more open to supporting Trump. While black women remain a more loyal Democratic voting bloc, black men have shown greater political flexibility.

In a state like Michigan, which Trump won in 2016 because of a decline in black voter turnout since 2012, that could have a big impact. Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in Detroit in 2016, but did so by 46,872 fewer votes than President Barack Obama. bought just four years ago. Amid widespread dissatisfaction with both major party candidates this year, there is concern among some that turnout could look like 2016.

Meanwhile, in recent months, Biden, Harris, Trump and third-party candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. all made trips to Michigan without visiting the predominantly poor and predominantly black neighborhoods left by the New Era.

While Biden has locked in traditional Black voters and continues to meet them where they are, he may be overlooking a large swath of atypical but approachable Black voters. He’ll be in Detroit again this weekend, speaking at a marquee fundraising event 10 miles away and a world away from New Era Detroit with thousands of Black Detroit movers and shakers of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP.

The apparent lack of real ground presence in New Era’s neighborhoods could spell trouble for candidates in what is likely to be a close race.

“Unless someone flies in for a day and gives a speech, you won’t be able to tell that this is an election year in our communities. Other than that, you know, it’s business as usual,” Williams said. “You gotta think, man, we live in communities where people are worried about their next meal, people are worried about whether or not they’re going to be able to turn on the lights. That’s why sometimes you have to apologize to our people when we don’t have two political candidates who have nothing to do with us or have nothing to do with us.”

Today, Williams and his team were exploring an area in West Detroit that needs it more than most. At the gas station where the women were robbed, they gassed customers and displayed a New Age “Safe Zone” sticker on the station’s glass door. They walked through a nearby liquor store, about six people deep, to check on the store’s employees.

“Their presence lets people know we’re all in this together. You know we didn’t come here on our own,” said Sherri Smith, one of the vendors at Whatcha Wanna Eat. “What they do for the community is worth its weight in gold.”

New Era Detroit walk to their bus.
New Era Detroit.NBC News

Verdict on political propaganda: ‘It’s not real’

At New Era’s headquarters, a gutted, renovated, converted former weed shop, the walls are covered with photos from the group’s work in the community. and a large map of the United States with markers pointing to a growing list of New Era chapter cities, including Baltimore; Cleveland; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; and Miami.

“In this place, we provide all different kinds of material resources,” Williams said, adding that he struggles with utility bills to combat pressures in the community.

Such a connection in society has placed the group in an enviable political space. She has worked with local candidates to get them in front of prospective voters and holds voter education classes to help people better understand policy issues and how they affect them and their communities.

“When people come to our communities eager to vote, and we know we’ve never seen this person, and they finally come to our communities and say, ‘Hey, you know, I’m trying to get your vote.’ this is over. We know it’s fake. We know it’s not real. So it takes us out of the process,” Williams said.

“The things politicians should be able to do for us in our communities are real things,” he said. However, the relationship between the political system and the community “does not seem real to us.”

New Era Detroit.
Courtesy of New Era Detroit

That afternoon, a line of people stretched from New Era’s front door to the parking lot. The organization has been on a social media blast raising funds to help people in need. People facing eviction, falling behind on their utility bills, or needing help with their medical bills have all come to see what New Era can do.

“It means a lot to me. This is my son, and he’s doing what he’s always done: taking care of people,” said Ozzie Williams, Zeek’s father, who also works with New Era.

Asked if any of the presidential candidates piqued her interest or earned her vote, she said only one: Joe Biden.

“Me and my family, we’re Democrats, right? That’s what happened. Donald Trump is Donald Trump,” he said.

Zeek Williams said that neither Trump nor Biden have won his vote yet and he is not even sure if he will vote in the election. “How can you ask us in general how these people can win your vote?” We have never seen these people. Do you know what I mean? They are not real people. When they come to Michigan and come to these places — but it’s not in our places.”

Family friend DeAndre Richardson, who has ties to New Era’s school and is part of New Era’s patrol unit, said he is undecided between Biden and Trump, but has seen a change in the way many young black men connect. political parties.

New Era District.
New Era’s Williams, center, in the band’s office.NBC News

“Yes, they ask more questions. Especially on the blue side. A lot of people go from blue to red to blue to red because people see the kind of person you are instead of your policies,” Richardson said.

All three men agreed on one other thing: Any candidate who wants to win and expand the black male vote must show up and be consistent.

“We just want to see you, touch you and feel your vibe,” Richardson said. “We are people of energy; we feel energy. So put your energy back on the block. After that, we will conduct our observations.”

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By 37ci3

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