OpEd: I Watched Donald Trump’s Suspect Visit To A Detroit Church And Learned Everything About A City

OpEd: I Watched Donald Trump’s Suspect Visit To A Detroit Church And Learned Everything About A City

Trump and Detroit are exactly who I thought they were.

Published September 4, 2016

Donald Trump was never in Detroit. The news reports you see may say he was. His awkward, fake ass Cheeto Mascot Hymnal Rock in the pews may have created the illusion that he was there, shuffling for the coveted, ever-elusive Black vote.

His campaign promised he’d show up, and of course his brigade found their way to Grand River Avenue, where the Great Faith Ministries (a questionable Detroit institution if there ever was one, and we’ll get back to that) had welcomed him into their doors.

But he was never in Detroit. We saw the real Detroit, the ills, the heart, the attitude. The Sunkist Man barely inhaled 100 breaths of Detroit air before his limos were screeching off, protected by a small militia of Detroit police and Michigan state troopers.

So why did he bother going at all? We explored.

New York JFK, Friday 4:40 PM

This idea was created on the fly. I don’t think things through, I prefer to follow my instinct to get into the most trouble in the shortest amount of time whenever and wherever. So of course my ticket wasn’t even fully booked when I got to the terminal.

The flight was boarding when the ticket agent blessed me with that info. Twenty minutes from take-off. Sweet..

All these years adulting and I still can’t guarantee I’ll catch any flight in a timely way.

I’m sprinting.

New York JFK, Friday 4:45 PM

Some American hero decided to build the gates for this airline a cool Olympic marathon away from security check. No one wants to be that shady, sweaty passenger with the long hair running around a major city’s most secure facility. I could feel tips being called into the NSA with each heaving gasp.

New York JFK, Friday 4:47 PM

I watch the cabin doors of Flight 2153 close, next to my annoyed colleague (she was on time), I wonder what rule says passengers who arrive 13 minutes before departure have to watch in existential misery as their sky chariot abandons them. Nice.

New York JFK, Friday 5:05 PM

They hook us up with a 7PM flight that should get us to Detroit around the same time as our first route.

New York JFK, Friday 7:00 PM

When we’re set to lift off, and I’m poising myself to say each religion’s prayer for this vehicle to be in the air when it’s supposed to be and on the ground, we spot the Trump jet on the LaGuardia runway. Fake ass luxury jet with a bunch of fake ass, spray-tanned SPF-deniers inside of it.

“We gon’ see you there, homey. Bet.”

At the same time, Big Mike is engaging us about Detroit’s history — he’s been here since the late 1990s and owns the place so, clearly, he’s seen some changes. We talk Dan Gilbert, the tycoon who’s poured so much money into a Detroit real estate overhaul, locals are rightly suspicious. Being that Gilbert’s empire is built on ‘fake money,’ according to rapper/activist Big Mike, everyone wants to know how him buying that the postal service will change daily lives, and what tf he’s doing buying the postal service.

Oh, and the drugs! There’s a drug epidemic, fueled mostly by Fentanyl (the super powerful pain pill that killed Prince) cut with heroine. Mike emphasizes that they’re *cutting Fentanyl with heroine* and heroine used to be the go-to high in these urban streets. Not anymore. The prevalence of over-the-counter pill cocktails and eager drug addicts has changed the landscape so that a largely unemployed city is now squirming in the grips of record overdose stats and crime.

Mike dropping jewels. But we gotta be out, as Sir Orangina’s dog-and-pony show for Jesus will soon begin across town. Mike tells us his homey will be stationing her taco truck near the Trump event. Peak protest. I love this place already.

(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)
(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)

Detroit Metro Airport, Friday 11:55 PM

The Uber is on its way. We debate whether or not we’re spoiled by NY Uber because “13 min away” is a foreign dialect. We’re trash for that, btw, and need to learn to wait like the rest of America.

So we can be great again.

Detroit Metro Airport, Saturday 12:15 AM

Uber driver asks us what brings us to Detroit. They’re a mix between bartenders and journalists, these Uber folks, and I’m not mad at his polite overture. We tell him about the Trump thing, and how we’re not really here to see Trump, but do wanna know how a real ass city like Detroit plans to drag him up and down 8 Mile. For the culture. For mom’s spaghetti.

Detroit Westin Cadillac Book Hotel, Saturday 7:00 AM

We rise to the autumnal shock of sub-80 degree weather. Ok, Detroit, we’ll rock with this for now, but generally, gonna need you to wait til Fall when my sweater game is fully active. We’ll deal though, because we’re not haters.

Downtown Detroit The Dime Store Brunch Café Saturday 8:45 AM

Big Mike runs The Dime Store, and he’s taking our orders at the countertop where we’re seated. Big Mike looks like a Detroit somebody and is forthcoming with his knowledge. His tee says ‘Say Nice Things About Detroit.’ Asks us what brings us into town. Getting the feeling we’ll have to get this answer down to a script, so that we can give it quickly and move on.

It’s not about us. It’s not about Trump.

(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)
(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)

Uber Ride Two, with Sulaiman, 9:45 AM

There is a single, soiled sock in the backseat. Word bruh? Your rating will reflect this, and the single black glove tucked in the seat pocket doesn’t give us warm feelings either. What else you doing in this car, homey? My colleague expresses relief that we’re at least together for this ride with f*cking Dexter apparently. He’s quieter than Big Mike or our first Uber driver, which is just ominous.

Anyway, he was no murderer. He gets us there in pretty good time, and asks aloud why we’re coming to this area once we all realize there are police crawling all over the place. We can’t even approach the main entrance of the church, usually open to the public, because there’s a 50 motorcycle blockade supported by many bald, burly cops.

He asks why we’re going into this war zone and I say ‘Trump is having an event here.’

“You are here for Donald Trump? You support Trump?”

I nearly trip out the cab saying no so hard, while he adds, “I am a Muslim…” and I cut him off to say I love him and all my Muslim brothers.

Near Great Faith Ministries, Grand River Ave Detroit, 10:00 AM

Want to refer to Donald Trump as a Person Of Color because of his cancerous tan levels, but realize my ancestors didn’t die for that. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, anyway.

We face a gauntlet of bees walking up to the taco truck, so that’s obviously MAD fun. Regardless, there is a cluster of civil dissenters grouping near the Spartan Army of Detroit law. They’re asking, in turns, where they’re allowed to walk, since the police are very protective of what’s usually just a sidewalk.

A nicer officer tells us that the block is closed and that the church service is only for members who have bought a ticket. So, Great Faith Ministries, which is typically open to all comers, as a premier church in Detroit, is closed. The Human Traffic Cone done shut down church.

(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)
(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)

Great Faith Ministries, Grand River Ave Detroit, 10:35 AM

A Detroit activist named Tenay Hankins, founder of YouVotedNowWhat, offers us a ride to the other side of the guarded block. She shares Big Mike’s verbose love of Detroit, and tells us why she’s there also. Her organization, made up of ten people, wants people to vote more, and sells t-shirts to encourage political action after ticking the ballot. This is not about Donald Trump.

“Did you know that communities with high voter turnout also have the highest property value? They are, um, the most affluent places,” she adds.

No doubt, civic engagement is one way that impoverished people are often excluded from the process. Can’t donate, can’t make a difference, it seems. But Tenay is not for the simple math that divines poverty must be rooted in corruption. She stresses that the foreclosure crisis in Detroit is as much a political issue as it is an economic one, which is hard to refute. Still, I can’t help but notice how *empty* Detroit is. Recent visits to metro New Orleans, and Los Angeles revealed the dilemma of urban blight: beneath the shadow of gaudy high-rise casinos are shanty-towns, the forlorn and mentally ill, the hidden and sometimes invisible humanity of broken cities.

Tenay provides access to the activists she knows: Horace Sheffield, a pastor; Poetic, a spoken word artist and advocate for distressed veterans. We’re walking to the front entrance of Great Faith Ministries, where still more cops are mounted on horses. In their silence, you can feel disappointment.

(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)
(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)

Great Faith Ministries, Grand River Avenue Detroit, 11:20 AM

Detroit was never here for the okie-doke. A few conversations in, and the truth keeps blooming a special shade tree for the Republican candidate. A shade garden, really. Any and all of the shade. The signs and the sentiments read strongly that Detroit won’t allow itself to be used as a prop.

Horace Sheffield tells us about the strong faith tradition in the Black community of Detroit. That there’s a marriage of theological devotion and political strategy. Sounds familiar.

But the clergy here is not of one mind. Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, who invited Trump, has long been known as a shyster and has all kinds of rumors bubbling up about his checkered past.

Great Faith Ministries, Grand River Avenue Detroit, 12:00 PM

A rumble starts down the block. Walk past piles of horse dung after a protester shouts ‘Everyone move down here! He’s coming out!’

Now the police are in formation, a line of them, arms crossed, rifles at their chests. The protest chants boom. We move to observe the peaceful opposition, careful not to startle any police in the process. ‘Cuz…you know.

Once the full-throated “F*ck Trump” cries reach their zenith, we’re rolling live on Facebook. It’s a rush at that point. The crowd’s swirling around our anchor, Brook, and she’s handling it all calmly. We reach Poetic for a quick interview, and he articulates what most of Detroit is thinking: Trump’s bullsh*t won’t drop here. Throw acid on it and send it back from whence it came.

Except, no one ever sees Donald Trump. Nor Omarosa. Nor the puppets and surrogates responsible for soothing and growing his ego’s rotten fruit. A Cadillac van has peeled off, followed by more lackeys, presumably. And all the people the Trump campaign *could* have talked to…are here in its wake. Still bellowing, but also a little emptier for it.

(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)
(Photo: Andrew Ricketts/BET)

Great Faith Ministries, Grand River Avenue Detroit, 12:40 PM

The crowd has dispersed.

We stick around with Tenay and some youth activists to talk about the aftermath. About 15 other cars exit the church parking lot. Fifteen. A mega church in Detroit, capacity of over 500, and no one in there but some Trump loyalists and maybe some misguided ticket holders.

I spot Jelani Cobb of the New Yorker milling about. He just flew in, and in the rush may have missed the thicker mass of people once present. I tell him I admire him and shake his hand before we’re both back to work. Listening to people. They’re fighting for Detroit, past the election cycle circus freaks.

This is not about Donald Trump.

Great Faith Ministries, Grand River Avenue Detroit, 1:00 PM

Just like that, the smokescreen is clear. And the fever dream of a billionaire narcissist pushing for the presidency is effectively over. Now it’s up to Donald to decide if he’s finished, or if he’s done.

Because Detroit been knew.

Written by Andrew Ricketts

(Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


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