COLUMBIA, S.C. — President Donald Trump’s keynote address to kick off the 2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College raised the ire of many who said he should never have been included in the three-day event.
And when Trump received the Bipartisan Justice Award, given to an elected official who has done the most for criminal justice reform, the backlash only grew.
California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris first refused to attend the forum, but relented after Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, a co-host of the original candidate forum, announced that he and Benedict College were taking over the weekend’s events and removing the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center as a sponsor of the event.
“I can’t believe [sponsors] would invite someone who dares, dares to use the world ‘lynching’ with the blood that has been poured on the soil of South Carolina and so many places,” Harris said.
Earlier in the week before the event, Trump compared House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry to “lynching.”
Harris noted that her boycott was primarily because students at the historically Black college were not invited to hear Trump’s speech despite the event being held on their campus.
The campus auditorium that hosted the president contained just 300 seats. But just 10 Benedict College students were invited, while others were told not to leave their dorms during Trump’s appearance.
“To exclude those students from a conversation with the president of the United States was wrong,” Harris said. “It’s about everybody being here. [Criminal justice reform] is such an important conversations.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden blasted Trump, saying the president’s claims that he and his administration had done more than any other to improve the lives of African Americans was flat-out false.
“I understand he had things to say, like he’s done more for African Americans than President Obama. Whoa. I mean, come on,” Biden said.
During Trump’s speech, he said he had done more for Blacks than any other president, including Obama. He claimed the African American unemployment rate is at “historic lows,” and said the bipartisan First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that resulted in the release of thousands of federal inmates and the betterment of conditions for many more, happened because he pushed for it.
“He used [Benedict College] as a backdrop,” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said.
“They let him speak her unchecked for about an hour,” stated Booker, who added that Trump has a history of being on the side of white supremacists.
He also attacked Trump for his relentless media campaign in 1989 in which he took out full-page newspaper ads asking for the death penalty against the “Central Park Five,” the five teenagers falsely convicted of attacking and murdering a jogger in New York City’s Central Park.
In recent years, the men were exonerated but the president maintains his belief that they’re still guilty.
“[Trump’s] speech here was offensive and insulting,” Booker said. “This was the person who was on the stage fueling lies about his record and about this country.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said the words justice and Donald Trump “do not go into the same sentence.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Trump is delusional.
“He doesn’t understand what reform is about,” Buttigieg said.
Because of the fallout from Trump’s appearance and the award given him, the 2020 Bipartisan Justice Center was removed from the event as a sponsor.
“I want to thank [those responsible] for taking control of this conference in a most significant way,” Booker said.