By AVERI HARPER, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — With a backdrop of civil unrest after the shooting of Jacob Blake and thousands descending on the nation’s capital on the anniversary of the March on Washington in a show of support for racial equity, the Biden campaign is beefing up its efforts to engage Black men.
The campaign’s strategy includes a series of conversations called Shop Talk, meant to simulate the raw conversations had in Black barber shops. The events could be an opportunity to increase turnout. Only 54% of eligible Black men voted in 2016 compared to 64% of eligible white men, according to Pew Research.
The Biden campaign’s first virtual stop was in Wisconsin and the campaign has plans for similar events in other battleground states.
“To have that space is an example of how our campaign is bringing likeminds together to stand up for the issues they care about the most,” said Biden strategic communications director Kamau Marshall in a statement to ABC News. “By selecting a state to anchor the conversation each week, we’re confident that these gatherings will energize more Black men to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — the candidates that will undoubtedly champion their safety, economic prosperity and physical and mental well-being.”
For its first event on Thursday, the campaign enlisted rapper and producer Jermaine Dupri to participate in a panel discussion with community leaders from the state and Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
“Before a person goes to prison they’re in a courtroom, before their courtroom, they have an encounter with a police officer and too often that encounter is deadly,” Barnes told participants. “We see people charged, getting these trumped up charges, or stuff that so many people are able to get away with in a neighborhood three miles away, right? And these are experiences that most of us have had.”
After speaking with the Blake family and other community members in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Barnes called the situation in the town where Blake was shot, “challenging.” He said that the issues surrounding racial inequity and injustice predate the Trump administration, but still urged Black men to support the Biden-Harris ticket, saying Joe Biden’s policy shifts since the presidential primary are a signal that former vice president is willing to listen to the concerns of voters and evolve.
“I know we have a much better chance of holding [Biden] accountable than we do with the current occupant of the White House, and that means a whole lot because at least, Joe Biden has been responsive to the things that people have been calling out for,” Barnes said.
The Trump campaign, in contrast, is moving to open up community centers for voter outreach in communities of color with plans to register voters and pitch them on Trump’s passage of the criminal justice reform legislation, the First Step Act.
Though criminal justice reform remains a significant issue, the Biden campaign seeks to engage Black men on issues beyond that, highlighting the aspects of Biden’s “Build Back Better” economic plan designed to strengthen educational and economic opportunities for Black people.
“I think that Black men are very strong-willed,” said Chuck Creekmur, the CEO of hip-hop news site AllHipHop, who participated in the panel discussion. “I think that we are looking for an opportunity and a fair opportunity to make our own way and to create our own power within our own communities.”
Jermaine Dupri, in an interview with ABC News, urged the Biden campaign to be explicit and unapologetic in explaining how their policy proposals will improve Black communities.
“Something needs to happen where they say ‘we’re doing this to for Black people’ and not feeling bad about saying that,” said Dupri.
The discussions will also open the floor for participants to address potential sore spots for the campaign, including Biden’s role in the 1994 Crime Bill and Sen. Kamala Harris’ records as a prosecutor and as California’s attorney general. The pair’s record on criminal justice reform and Biden’s previous “you ain’t black” comments, which Biden later apologized for, are points the GOP seized on during the Republican National Convention.
“We’re going to have honest conversations,” said political commentator and longtime Harris supporter Bakari Sellers, who is assisting in the effort.
“I feel like she does have to address some of that stuff and I can’t say that it’s gonna win everybody, but I think that it will turn heads,” said Dupri. “A lot more than it will if she doesn’t address it.”
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