Activist and media personality the Rev. Al Sharpton criticized President Donald Trump, who has posted multiple tweets bashing Baltimore and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, while attending an home ownership event Monday at a city church.
“He has a particular venom for blacks and people of color," Sharpton said of Trump, speaking outside New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore. He stood in front of a banner bearing the logo of his National Action Network and the slogan “No Justice, No Peace.”
“He is playing a race-divisive card," Sharpton said of the president. "We are here to talk about how we build together and get something done.”
Sharpton was joined at the event by Michael Steele, a former Republican lieutenant governor of Maryland and Republican National Committee chairman who is also now a media personality. Steele challenged Trump to come to West Baltimore and talk with residents to learn about their challenges.
“Mr. President: Come on down. The streets are ready for you. The neighborhoods are ready for you. … Put the tweet down, brother, and show up," Steele said.
Sharpton touted an ongoing bipartisan effort on housing policy and homeownership that he’s been involved in. He said he had planned to visit Baltimore for the event for more than a month, and it was coincidence that his visit coincided with Trump’s critical tweets.
Sharpton and Trump had their own battle of tweets before Monday’s event, with the president calling the minister a “con man.” Sharpton responded: “Trump says I’m a troublemaker & con man. I do make trouble for bigots. If he really thought I was a con man he would want me in his cabinet.”
Steele urged Baltimore residents to not get distracted by Trump’s attacks.
“Work with us, help us help you put out there what you need," Steele said. "Make the leadership accountable to you. Tell them what is lacking. Put in place the leadership you need to help you get resources and do the things to build all of this district and districts across the city and the state.”
The news conference drew local officials and a crowd of onlookers, including a heckler who proclaimed that Sharpton and Steele were “phonies.”
Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, said in an interview afterward that he hoped the drama surrounding the president’s tweets — and the subsequent national media attention — wouldn’t distract from work being done to improve the city’s neighborhoods.
“It is unfortunate that the news media is here to cover the president insulting his own citizens, but we’re glad to show the media what Baltimore is really about," Little said.
Little said Sharpton has made contributions to the African American community and welcomed his visit to Baltimore.
“He’s not here to respond to the president’s tweet. He’s here because he planned to be here to work with us to build housing capacity in this city,” Little said.
Little noted that many of Baltimore’s challenges can be traced to decades of discriminatory housing policies that prevented people of color from buying and financing homes in certain neighborhoods — housing policies that were enacted by the federal government. Trump and the federal government could have a greater role in helping Baltimore recover from those damaging policies, Little said.
“As ill-intentioned as the president’s tweets were, I think they have focused a light that will shine opportunity on Baltimore to kind of speak to some of the challenges that we have here,” he said.