US race relations are at a critical juncture and threaten to spiral out of control if Donald Trump is elected president, say members of America’s largest civil rights organization.
“There are people out here who want to create a racial war and if we’re not careful we’re going to fall into that,” said Moneuc Conners, 50, a former local NAACP chapter president working two jobs in Indiana.
On Sunday, a black Iraq veteran, seemingly incensed by racial bias towards African Americans, shot dead three police officers, one of them black, in the Louisiana city of Baton Rouge.
Just over 10 days ago, five police officers were shot dead in Dallas by a black sniper bent on killing whites following two high-profile fatal shootings of black men at the hands of police.
From the white man who killed black worshippers in Charleston to the gunman who killed 49 people in a gay Orlando nightclub in June, the past year has seen a torrent of slaughter motivated by hate.
Conners says she is “praying” that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton wins the November 8 election.
“I do feel if Trump the Chump do get it, it’s going to take our world back,” she told AFP on the sidelines of the conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The New York billionaire, who will be nominated Republican candidate for president on Tuesday, has been widely condemned for running a divisive campaign and is one of the rare US presidential candidates to decline an invitation to address the NAACP annual convention.
– ‘Getting worse’ –
He spearheaded the movement that questioned whether America’s first black president, Barack Obama, was born in the United States and has been accused by Clinton of playing coy with white supremacists.
“Caucasian people aren’t shot dead like we are,” says Oscar Arrington, a retired New York police officer attending the NAACP convention and angling to get onto one of the committees.
“It seems to be getting worse instead of better because we keep saying no more, we’re tired, it’s enough and right after that some other unarmed person of color is shot and killed by the police.”
“It needs to be dealt with,” Arrington told AFP.
The vast majority of Americans agree. More than 80 percent think the country’s next president should place a major focus on improving race relations, which 63 percent say are “generally bad” according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.
NAACP president Cornell William Brooks, who has compared police shootings to lynchings, used his keynote address to urge the next president to commit to a five-point pledge to preserve black lives.
“If you want our vote, if you want our support, you’ve got to honor our pledge within the first 100 days and commit before you take office,” he said.
He demanded an end to federal money for agencies that discriminate, the forced handover of internal documents, data on deaths, a federal code of conduct and an independent board to investigate shootings.
NAACP delegates welcomed the proposal and warmly applauded Clinton’s call at their convention for criminal justice reform, data about deaths in custody and tighter gun control.
– ‘More racially divided’ –
“We’re at a critical juncture,” said Terry Pruitt, a retired lobbyist attending the conference from Michigan.
“I think we’re either at a point where we can unite this country and move forward, or continue to take steps back,” he told AFP.
Neither was it just a question of law enforcement. He blames Republicans for not doing enough during the Obama administration to create unity and help solve some of the problems.
“From day one when you make a commitment to not support the agenda of the president and to do everything you can to dismantle some of his vision and some of his desire, then you set up the stage for war and conflict,” he said.
“I hope with the right leadership we can tone down some of the rhetoric and that’s why I have a big struggle with Donald Trump.
“Because how do you take back some of the statements that he’s made? How do you begin to accept that he’s got the common will of all the people and is a champion of equality?”
Arrington said he was concerned by the scale of support for Trump and predicted that a Trump presidency would sow discord.
“He’ll probably fragment the country more,” he said. “It’ll be more racially divided.”