Republicans Host Event Centered on Black Issues, Minority Votes are "Up for Grabs"

click to enlarge Republicans Host Event Centered on Black Issues, Minority Votes are "Up for Grabs"
Sam Allard / Scene
County Republicans hosted Wall Street Journal columnist and Fox News contributor Jason Riley for a conversation Friday evening with local activist Basheer Jones on the subject of urban black values.

Sipping on cocktails in the clubby ambience of Red Space on Superior Avenue — pretty hip for the GOP! — party notables slapped backs and talked shop before a heated and important discussion. It’s one to which Republicans are listening ever more closely given a national demographic picture skewing toward diversity and Cuyahoga county’s historic leftward lean.

County Executive candidate Jack Schron, former mayoral candidate Ken Lanci, city councilman Zack Reed and former Ohio Senator George Voinovich, plus a handful of suburban councilmen and -women were all in attendance.

Framed as “Rebuilding America’s Great Urban Core: Cleveland’s Rise from the Rust” Riley and Jones squared off on issues which face the black community. Riley calmly articulated the views of the the black right, espoused in his recent book, Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed.

His stance was more or less that issues facing minorities in 21st century America — the utter destruction of the nuclear family, high incarceration rates, low education levels — have directly resulted from well-intentioned but ultimately counterproductive government welfare programs.

Riley also controversially stated that blacks tend to point fingers at outside forces — the media, law enforcement — for social ills when they largely have themselves to blame.

“Blacks aren’t dying because cops are killing them,” he said in one memorable moment. “Blacks are dying because other blacks are killing them. There are cold, hard homicide statistics which back this up.”

Shaking his head across the table was Basheer Jones. Jones most recently started a grassroots organization called the Cleveland Renaissance Movement intended to mobilize African-Americans in Northeast Ohio against violence and discrimination. His group staged a march to Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland on Labor Day to continue promoting awareness of the 137 shots fired by Cleveland Police officers on two unarmed black victims in November, 2012.

Throughout the conversation, Jones implored Riley to ask the “why” and not the “what.”

“You say, ‘behave yourselves’ and ‘pull your pants up,’” Jones said in response to comments by Riley about observed behaviors in black male culture, “but in my classroom, I know young men who don’t even have the resources to afford a belt.”

Riley, who said that it was the first time he’d heard that particular defense, laughed in Jones’ face.

Though the two debaters often disagreed, and were only seldom effectively moderated by guest MC Andrew Jackson, both Riley and Jones said that they’d like to see more outreach by the Republican party among black neighborhoods.

“I’d like to see more outreach if for no other reason than to get better representation from Democrats, who’ve long taken blacks for granted,” said Riley.

“My generation is up for grabs,” said Jones, who graduated from Morehouse College in ‘06. “It’s not Democrat or Republican. It’s about coming into inner city communities and introducing yourself.” Though Jones couldn’t remember Jack Schron’s last name, he said he appreciated the county executive candidate because it was the first time he could recall seeing signs for a Republican candidate in the inner city.

During a chaotic Q&A portion, not a single question was asked. Party chairman Rob Frost passed the microphone to the big wigs in the front rows who duly revealed themselves to be hopelessly out of touch: Ken Lanci saw fit to offer his own rags-to-riches narrative as evidence of a post-racial America, and voiced his grave concern over blacks’ use of “the N-word.”

You all can use it,” argued Lanci, “but if I use, it, whoooaaa!” Lanci also censured the lack of a white presence onstage and touted his generous financial contributions.

Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed said by phone Monday morning that he didn't see the event as a conscious effort by Republicans to reach out to black voters.

"I saw it more as an effort to educate the black community to really look to both parties," Reed said. "Basheer said his generation's votes are up for grabs, and it's true. The Republicans of yesterday are not the Republicans of today."

Reed said that he has seen Jack Schron, in particular, making a concerted effort to appeal to blacks by citing his own hiring of minorities and campaigning from an economic perspective.

"I tell my colleagues, this race is going to be a lot closer than we all think," Reed said.

Reed also said that he and State Senator Shirley Smith talked informally after the event about hosting something similar in the near future. Overall, Reed said, he thought the conversation was a good one.

"I didn't agree with a lot of what Jason Riley said, and how he said it, but he did say one thing that I agreed with: If you want to reach black communities, you've got to reach out to the black barbershop. Everybody knows you can go to the churches, but that comment let me know that at least he still probably gets his haircut in the hood."  
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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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