In His Hour of Need, Donald Trump Turns to None Other Than Milton Street

As Trump casts about for prominent African-American supporters, he brings the tax-dodging ex-con onto stage and says "He is a highly respected, great man in Philadelphia."

Donald Trump had a rather embarrassing setback earlier this week: He canceled a press conference with 100 black pastors after some of them flat-out denied his presidential campaign’s claim that they would be endorsing him. On Wednesday, in an apparent attempt to show that he, in fact, has real support from real black clergy members, Trump brought a small group of African-Americans who he said were pastors on stage with him at a campaign rally in Virginia.

To be sure, many of them were religious leaders. But one of them definitely was not: former Pennsylvania state senator and ex-con Milton Street.

At the rally, Trump also called Street a “highly respected, great man in Philadelphia,” which is … a stretch.

Street has real political experience, and he’s skilled at attracting media attention. But highly respected? Not so much.

Street has served time in federal prison for failing to pay his taxes. He has lost every race he’s run in since he lost his state Senate seat in the mid-’80s, including those for the U.S. House, City Council, state Senate (again) and, most recently, mayor. Back in May, during the mayoral primary, he received just 1.7 percent of the vote.

But Street’s known less for his electoral failures than for his ludicrous publicity stunts. In a surreal 2007 appearance, he dragged a coffin to City Hall, flung himself over it and sang, “If I Can Help Somebody,” to protest violence. Last month, he passed out porn in public to bring attention to the Porngate scandal.

So, the fact that Street is playing any role at all in a presidential campaign is mind-blowing. And it shows just how hard-pressed Trump is to demonstrate real black support for his cause.

A November poll by Fox News found that only 13 percent of non-white respondents would vote for Trump in a contest against Hillary Clinton — which was a worse showing than any other Republican candidate in the survey. This isn’t surprising. Trump’s campaign has been viewed by many as racially intolerant from the start. Maybe it was his assertions that Mexico is sending America immigrants that, Trump says, are “in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” Or maybe it was his full-throated buy-in to the birther conspiracies about President Barack Obama. Or perhaps it was his recent observation that a disruptive Black Lives Matter protester at a recent Trump rally who was “roughed up” might have had it coming.

Given that context, many were dubious when Trump proclaimed that he’d secured the endorsement of 100 black ministers from across the country. That skepticism was well-founded. After some ministers who met with Trump said that, actually, they were’t Trump supporters at all, the entire thing was declared an unfortunate”miscommunication” by Ohio pastor Darrell Scott, who organized the meeting. Another black pastor described the event as a “get-played moment.”

But Trump rolled on. And at a Wednesday campaign rally in Manassas, Virginia, Trump took to the stage with a small group of black ministers … and Milton Street.

Screen Shot

Screen shot via C-SPAN

Later, Trump and Street discussed the Black Lives Matter movement in a question-and-answer session with audience members at the rally. Street was in the crowd at the time. “My pastor wants to ask me a question,” said Trump. Again, Street is not a pastor.

“Mr. Trump,” said Street, “I want to address this issue of Black Lives Matter. Black lives matter no matter who kills them. There’s been more people killed with black-on-black crime in America than there has been with white people killed. … In Philadelphia, from 2007 to 2015, over 300 … 3,000 black people were shot dead by black people, and my question is, ‘Where was Black Lives Matter?’ They weren’t around.”

As Street was talking, the crowd cheered and Trump vociferously agreed with him “It’s true. It’s true,” said Trump, as Street listed off the statistics. “It’s a tremendous problem.”

Philadelphia’s homicide rate does indeed remain tragically high, and there’s no doubt the violence has disproportionately affected African-Americans. Between 2007 and 2014, there were 1,981 black victims murdered in Philadelphia, according to the police department. But Street and Trump seem to suggest that a higher number of black people are murdered by other African-Americans in the United States than white people are murdered by other whites — and that’s just factually wrong.

It’s a dispute that matters: Trump recently retweeted an error-riddled chart that inaccurately said 81 percent of white homicide victims are murdered by black people. In fact, 15 percent were killed by African-Americans in 2014, according to FBI statistics.

At the rally, Street also asked Trump if he would come to Philadelphia to “address the black community on what we’re going to do about stopping the crime in the black community and black-on-black crime in [the] black community and crime in our schools.”

“I would do that,” Trump said. Then he heaped praise onto Street: “I went to the Wharton School of Finance in Philadelphia. I know Philadelphia well. He is a highly respected, great man in Philadelphia.”

Street also told me he met offstage with Trump. Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.