FLINT, Mich. — Republican presidential candidateDonald Trump’s trip into an African-American church in Flint to reach out to black voters and address the Flint water crisis ended abruptly amid protesters inside the church and a pastor who asked that he not make a political speech.
“It used to be that cars were made in Flint and you couldn’t drink the water in Mexico and now the cars are made in Mexico and you can’t drink the water in Flint,” Trump said. “It’s terrible.”
But his remarks were cut short — he spoke for just over five minutes — after protesters interrupted his speech with questions about housing discrimination. The Bethel United Methodist Church’s pastor, the Rev. Faith Green Timmons, also asked Trump to stay away from a political speech after he started criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I thought he wanted to see that we gave out food and water, and when his statement went beyond what he originally said, I asked him to stick to what he was originally going to say,” said Timmons. “He’s welcome to come and see what we’re doing in Flint. We’re doing well, we’re helping those in need, and I wanted him to see the best of Flint.
“And some of the statements I’ve heard him say about African Americans and Hispanics have been degrading,” Timmons added.
Before he left the stage, Trump commented on the news of the day — that Ford was moving 100% of its small-car production to Mexico.
“We shouldn’t allow it to happen,” he said. “They’ll make their cars, they’ll employ thousands and thousands of people, not from this country ... and we’ll have nothing but more unemployment in Flint.”
When he started criticizing Clinton for her support of the North American Free Trade Agreement, that’s when Timmons politely stepped in and asked him to stick to the subject of Flint.
Trump, in turn, politely abided and wrapped up his comments by saying the damage that has been done in Flint can be corrected “by people who know what they’re doing ... I will say that we can fix this problem. It’s going to take time. It’s amazing the damage that has been done.”
Erik Shelley of the Michigan People’s Campaign was inside the church and tried to ask Trump a question about claims that his family had discriminated against blacks in rental housing. But Trump didn’t acknowledge the question and Shelley was asked to leave the church.
As Trump’s motorcade left the church after his brief appearance in Flint, which also included a short stop at the Flint water plant, a group of about 100 people gathered, and many booed as his car left the area to head back to Bishop International Airport.
Brittany Ross was one of the few Trump supporters who came to the church, saying she was going to cast her first-ever vote for president for Trump.
“I love that he truly is an anti-establishment politician,” said the 21-year-old Mount Morris resident. "I truly believe that Trump is the best way to get away from what we’ve had with the last few presidencies.”
Before his talk inside Wednesday afternoon, a gaggle of curious onlookers and media had gathered outside the church, waiting for Trump's arrival.
Many may have wanted to hear what Trump was going to say before a group of about 50 invited guests to the church, but they were out of luck. The meeting was closed to the general public and all but a select pool of mostly national media.
Sharon C., a Flint resident who didn't want to give her last name, sat outside the church helping to hand out the cases of water that residents in Flint still have to depend on because the tap water that has been contaminated with lead.
"We'll give him respect and let him come, but I don't follow the things that he's said," she said. "I don't think he's sincere coming here to the black neighborhood. He's just doing a photo op."
Clyde Edwards, 85, of Flint said he has no intention of voting for Trump, adding that Clinton is his only choice for President.
"What is there to like about him? He's been bankrupted so many times," he said. "Why would I vote for someone like that?"
But Ira Combs Jr., a Republican Jackson resident and appointee to the state's advisory council for the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Administration, said he thinks Trump is listening to urban residents' concerns.
At the beginning of Trump's campaign, Combs said he was concerned about some of his more controversial statements.
"He needs to clarify himself. Whether it's on race or gender, with respect to where he stands philosophically," he said. "He needs to speak to his resume which reflects that he's a job-maker."