Michigan U.S. Senate hopeful John James said Republicans and Democrats both failed African Americans as the country experiences mass demonstrations against police brutality and generations of systemic inequality.
In a Saturday interview with MLive, James said the protests are focused on addressing human rights violations and pervasive racism that African Americans have faced for the last 400 years. The Farmington Hills Republican said politicians have done little to address these issues, and he is running to increase black representation in Congress.
“The Democratic Party has neglected African Americans,” James said. “The Republican Party has not even tried.”
James pledged to be a unifying figure in new television ads addressing the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died on Memorial Day after being pinned by a white Minneapolis officer for nearly nine minutes. Americans in all 50 states hit the streets in the last week to protest Floyd’s death and raise broader concerns about the unequal treatment of black and brown people.
James, a former U.S. Army combat veteran, Southeast Michigan businessman and descendant of slaves, would be Michigan’s first black senator if elected in November. He said having more diverse representation in the Senate is an important step toward fixing the underlying causes behind Floyd’s death.
“We need the first-hand lived experience of somebody who understands what it’s like to walk around in black skin and recognizes the urgency of the situation demands action, not more talk,” James said.
Demonstrators across the country have demanded Congress take action to hold police departments accountable for racial violence and the use of excessive force. The GOP-controlled Senate is planning June hearings on police misconduct, while Senate Democrats are proposing legislation to reform training policies and gather more data on misconduct.
In Michigan, the Republican-controlled state Senate unanimously passed a police reform bill introduced this week. Senate Bill 945 would require officers to undergo implicit bias and de-escalation training and participate in mental health screening.
James said he supports increased training for police departments and initiatives to recruit more diverse officers. His campaign said James has had conversations with Detroit Police Chief James Craig and the Police Officers Association of Michigan.
James denounced proposals to defund police departments as “insane,” saying it would cause more harm in African American communities. He also criticized Peters’ bill to create a National Criminal Justice Commission, which would study the entire criminal justice system and propose reforms.
“Calling for commissions looks like work, but it needs to — in a concrete manner — change the lives of people throughout our communities,” James said. “My focus is going to be on economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, education and infrastructure; how to modernize government and how we bring people out of poverty to begin with, not police them better in poverty.”
Peters has also participated in meetings with African American leaders across the state and voiced his commitment to addressing racial inequalities after Floyd’s death.
James and Peters characterized Floyd’s death as “murder.” Derek Chauvin, the former officer who prosecutors say held his knee on Floyd’s neck until he died, was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers who were present at the scene also face charges related to Floyd’s death.
Michigan’s Senate race is among the most hotly-contested in 2020, as Peters is one of only two Democrats defending seats in a state that President Donald Trump won in 2016. Trump narrowly took Michigan by an 11,000-vote margin, and Democrats are optimistic he won’t manage a repeat since the president lags behind presumptive nominee Joe Biden in various polls.
James has said he’s willing to disagree with Trump but has kept a close relationship to the president’s re-election campaign. He spoke at several Trump campaign rallies in Michigan, and Donald Trump Jr. said James is “all for” his father’s agenda during a virtual fundraiser last month.
James acknowledged being a Republican means he would probably lose the majority of black voters during a private conversation with African American leaders in April, according to a transcript provided to MLive. James said Saturday that African American Republicans face a “deep level of distrust,” but he remains committed to having tough conversations with the black community.
“One thing I’m saying when I go into these meetings is the fact that when 90% of African Americans vote Democrat, then you’ve disincentivized either party to work for you,” James said. “I’m asking voters of all stripes to evaluate me based upon the character that I have, the experience I have. Look at my actions and not the ‘R’ by my name.”
Several major cities in Michigan experienced largely peaceful daytime demonstrations that preceded violent clashes with police and national guardsmen tasked with enforcing evening curfews. Property damage and nighttime violence has reportedly waned in Michigan demonstrations held throughout the week and curfews have been lifted in some cases.
Trump is reportedly considering invoking the 1807 Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops to American cities. A spokesperson said James is not in favor of deploying the military to quell peaceful protests.
Earlier in the week, James’ campaign released two television ads calling for unity in the wake of Floyd’s “murder.” James called Floyd’s death an “an evil act” and said opportunistic looting and destruction that followed peaceful demonstrations “dishonors the cause of justice.”
“Politicians will never solve these problems — only you and I can do that,” James said in one of the ads. “No laws, no legislation can possibly change people’s hearts. But you and I can. And God certainly can.”
James spoke with MLive exactly one year after launching his Senate campaign on the anniversary of D-Day. It was James’ second interview with MLive; several attempts to speak with the Farmington Hills Republican earlier this year were unsuccessful.
The Michigan Democratic Party has criticized James for not participating in interviews with local press since launching his campaign.
James said the COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging to hold traditional campaign activities, but plans to be more visible as the August primary approaches.
“I really want to be a unifier who gets results, who will put people before politics,” James said. “I think that when people hear that message, it will resonate and especially in times as in times like these when we so desperately needed results, leadership and unity.”
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