President Donald Trump launched Wednesday what his administration has promised will be a series of celebrations to mark Black History Month, by holding a “listening session” at the White House. The event included African-American members of his administration, black former staffers on his campaign, and others. At the session, Trump made some comments about the late abolitionist Frederick Douglass that raised eyebrows, and one attendee, Pastor Darrell Scott, announced a plan to have a “sitdown” with “some of the top gang thugs in Chicago” to address the epidemic of violence that has plagued that city.
“I was recently contacted by some of the top gang thugs in Chicago for a sitdown. They reached out to me because they associated me with you,” Scott said to Trump at the event. “They respect you, they believe in what you’re doing, and they want to have a sitdown about lowering that body count. So, in a couple weeks, I’m going into Chicago.”
“I think it’s a great idea, because Chicago is totally out of control,” Trump responded.
“I let them know, I said, ‘We’ve got to lower that body count. We don’t want to talk about anything else, get that body count down,’ and they agreed,” Scott continued, adding, “They can do it. These are guys, straight from the streets, no politicians, straight street guys, but they’re going to commit that, if they lower that body count, we’ll come in and we’ll do some social programs.”
Trump described Scott’s idea as the “right thing.”
“We’re going to solve the problem for them, because we’re going to have to do something about Chicago. Because what’s happening in Chicago should not be happening in this country,” said Trump.
Scott, who was a top African-American surrogate for Trump’s presidential campaign last year, further discussed his plans in an interview with Yahoo News’ Olivier Knox on SiriusXM’s POTUS radio channel on Wednesday.
“The only reason they’re sitting down with me is because they associate me with President Trump. Now let me say this: I misspoke somewhat when I said gang thugs. Let’s say former gang thugs, former gang thugs, but these gentlemen still have their hands on the pulse of the street,” Scott explained. “They still have very highly respected voices in the community. They have a great degree of influence in the community and on the streets. So, they’re not current gang thugs. They’re former gang thugs, but they once again still have a voice in the streets. I want to make that plain. Their words carry weight.”
Scott said the “former gang thugs” contacted him through a “mutual friend.”
“They reached out to me simply because of my proximity to Mr. Trump,” he said.
Scott explained that he hopes to have a “dialogue” focused on “the saving of lives.” Last year, there were 762 homicides in Chicago, the city’s deadliest year in nearly two decades. Scott told Yahoo News he hoped the initial meeting with the former gang members would result in a commitment from them to make efforts to make “that body count come down.”
“What I told them was, I want a commitment out of you guys that you’re going to help us drastically, immediately, and measurably reduce the body count, and they told me that they think they can make it happen,” Scott said.
Scott said the initial sitdown would be “the first of several meetings” and that he hoped to be joined by business leaders, former football star Jim Brown, and boxer Floyd Mayweather.
“What I want to do, my goal is after this first meeting, we’re going to enter into a partnership one with another. The Trump administration is going to actually partner with the streets of Chicago, and we’re going to try to make these streets safer, and then we’re going to come back,” Scott explained.
In his interview with Yahoo News, Scott gave a preview of some of the efforts he hoped to launch in conjunction with the Trump administration if the ex-gang leaders were able to make good on a commitment to bring down the murder rate. Scott said he would work on some “very ambitious projects,” including “urban redevelopment,” “social programs” and “training for jobs and life skills.”
“So, we’re going to all work together synergistically, and I really believe that we can do this,” said Scott. “I believe that they see that the Trump administration is a very proactive administration and Trump has a lot of swag, and we can identify with it. I identify with it, and we’re going to get together and we’re going to make something happen.”
Yahoo News asked Scott if he hoped to include Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, in his effort.
“City Hall will come in later,” he said with a laugh.
Scott went on to explain that he isn’t exactly happy with Emanuel’s handling of the situation in the city so far.
“These gentlemen reached out to me. I wasn’t going to tell them, ‘Hold on, let me call the mayor.’ They reached out to me, and I reached out to the president, and the president gave me a thumbs up, and I’m giving him the thumbs up,” Scott said. “And, to be honest … City Hall to me has been spinning its wheels.”
Yahoo News also asked if Scott would want to have Barack Obama, a Chicago resident who was the first African-American president, participate in the effort. Scott said that it “wouldn’t be a bad idea” to have Obama join in, but he wasn’t sure whether the ex-president would be interested.
“We don’t know if he would be willing to commit to such an event. You know, Mr. Obama always made a point of saying that he didn’t want to be known … as exclusively a black president. I mean, he’s a historical figure. His place in history is etched in stone,” Scott said, adding, “I hadn’t even really given any thought to that. It’s something worth thinking of. I just don’t know of Mr. Obama’s willingness to participate.”
Scott further speculated that Obama, a Democrat, could face “political pressure … not to participate” in an effort led by the Republican Trump and his allies.
At the Black History Month event where Scott first discussed his plan, Trump made introductory remarks saying that he was “very proud” of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington, D.C., last year.
“People can learn about [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.], so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more. I notice Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today,” Trump said.
Trump’s assertion that Douglass was being “recognized more and more” raised eyebrows, since the social reformer and abolitionist died in 1895. Yahoo News asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer what Trump was referring to in his daily briefing on Wednesday. Spicer suggested that Trump’s Black History Month celebration would further highlight Douglass.
“I think he wanted to highlight the contributions that he has made,” Spicer said of Trump and Douglass. “And I think, through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”
Yahoo News also asked Spicer whether Obama would be invited to participate in any of the White House’s Black History Month festivities.
“Not that I’m aware of. It’s Day 1. We just started it off. We’ll have to get back to you on further details,” Spicer said, later adding, “There’s a lot of activities, as I mentioned, that the president is going to do to celebrate and honor this month, and this was just the first day of the month.”
Yahoo News reached out to Obama’s office to ask if he would be interested in joining the Trump White House to celebrate Black History Month. As of this writing, Obama’s spokesperson had not responded.
Additional reporting by Olivier Knox