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Trump's presidency stirs up fear among African Americans in L.A.: 'This election says there’s no place for me'

She can’t shake the memory — the sneering faces, the screaming, the wrath.

Francine Williams was one of about 30 black students in New York City to integrate Lafayette High School in Brooklyn in 1965. Before class let out one afternoon, a crowd had gathered outside in the predominantly Italian American neighborhood of Bensonhurst. Her teacher assured her that the school had a plan for this and told her and other black students to gather in the lobby.

She thought that administrators would call their parents or the police. But instead the principal opened the front door and said, “We can protect you while you’re on school property. But now you have to leave.”

Her heart jack-hammered. She and her friends pushed through the protesters and endured threats, shoves and epithets, trying to reach the train. A man crammed a flier for a gun shop in her face, with an image of a pistol. “This is what we’re going to do to you.”

All those images have returned since Donald Trump won the presidential election, she said. They morph with video images of Trump supporters, faces twisted in rage, attacking black protesters at campaign rallies.

Fran Sutton-Williams, 66, doesn’t fear Trump so much as the violence his supporters might unleash, feeling protected by his authority. They only shoved her in 1965.

“Now, I think they would hurt us,” she said, sitting at a coffee shop near her house in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

African Americans interviewed across Los Angeles tend to view Trump’s election — and his choice of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be U.S. attorney general — on a scale from nervous hope to doomsday dread. Some are blasé, fatalistic maybe. Others are outraged, or terrified. And many cycle through all of those emotions, over and over.

“Me and my family are Muslims, we’re black, I’m a woman,” said Tauheedah Shakur, 21, of South Los Angeles. “This election says there’s no place for me.”

The Trump win disappointed but did not shock her. “America has never been an inclusive place,” she said. “Now we have a president who says exactly what he feels.”

Because she used to wear a hijab and her name is Arabic, she’s endured affronts since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. People have shouted at her to go home. “I will gladly go back to Georgia if you buy me a ticket,” Shakur replied once.

She’s bracing for more such interactions, noting a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that tallied 300 hate incidents in the week after Trump won. Like Sutton-Williams, Shakur said that for now she is more worried about Trump’s followers than his government.

“I feel like somebody is going to attack my family,” she said.

But she has no plans to lie low. A youth criminal-justice reform activist, she took to downtown streets to protest Trump in the last two weeks and was heartened to see thousands of faces of all colors doing the same.

“People of color are resilient,” she said. “We always face these things.”

Most of her friends and family see Trump as a phenomenon to fear and fight. Her grandmother grew up in Texas during the Jim Crow era and is terrified that the nation might return to those days. Yet one acquaintance said she was happy Trump won because “he’s going to bring the jobs back.”

Shakur scoffed at that promise, but its optimism points to the unsettled atmosphere the country is under. For supporters and opponents alike, Trump’s lack of government experience or deep ideology, his erratic tweets and regular 180-degree reversals on policy  have created a nationwide hold-your-breath moment.

“He’s either going to cut his own throat or get it all together,” said Marshall Durden, 70, an Army veteran and handyman, at a 76 station in the Crenshaw District. “We’re just going to have to wait and see.”

He didn’t like the appointment of Sessions — a hard-line conservative on racial issues who has disparaged the Voting Rights Act. Would he try to suppress black voters? Would he  be willing to prosecute civil rights violations at this time of widespread unrest over police shootings of unarmed black men?

But he is more scared of Trump’s chief strategist: Steve Bannon, the former editor of Breitbart News, a platform for white nationalist views.

Durden still looks at it all with a bit of dark humor.

“Like the KKK’s going to be parading around again,” he said, laughing at what should be the absurdity of that idea.

Two thoughts eased his mind. The first: “I tell black people this all the time: We’re not the only ones who don’t like him.”

The second came to him the day after the election, as he was putting in a kitchen floor for a client.

“What he said comforted me: ‘Man, this is none of our business. That’s the white folks’ business.’”

No sense in worrying about it.

Jade Greene, 40, is jetting through the noise of the election like a 747 through a wispy cloud. She finds inspiration in her great-grandmother, who was an escaped slave in Jamaica, one of the famous Maroons who terrorized colonists throughout the Caribbean. Greene calls herself a “sovereign.”

“Nothing is going to stop me,” she said.

Since leaving the real estate industry after 15 years, Greene has all types of gigs: helping former prisoners re-enter society, selling organic shea butter online, learning the club business and working to get Assemblyman Steven Bradford elected to his state Senate district.

“I don’t have time to worry about what other people are going to do,” she said. “My focus is what’s going on in my neighborhood. Black people have always survived no matter who is in office.

“Black people have hardly been getting anything with Barack Obama as president,” Greene said. 

Williams disagrees. Having been through the terror of integration in Brooklyn, she feels that America can change rapidly. That the faces of then and now look the same make the sentiment all the more visceral.

She spent years in therapy dealing with the constant harassment she endured in high school.

The ugly images of her youth would recede for long spells. The election dredged it all back up.

“The depth of the hatred I see, that is what’s terrifying to me, because it makes them inhuman,” Williams said.

A retired dialogue coach at Warner Bros., she planned to go to an election party, but once the results started favoring Trump, she decided to stay home.

“I didn’t want to be in the streets. I didn’t want to be around anybody,” Williams said. “I can’t describe the grief and the fear. I was in a panic.”

She cried on election night and the next two days.

Williams said she has been cycling through the five stages of grief chronicled by author Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

“Some of it is anger. Some of it is denial. Some of it is bargaining. Maybe he won’t be so bad,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s acceptance.”

But every new Cabinet pick draws her back to anger. Trump was clearly volatile. But more dangerous, in her mind, were the “cold and plotting” people with whom he was surrounding himself. She believes they’re going to carry out their agendas, no matter the damage they cause.

“It’s going to not only hurt black people, it’s the whole country,” Williams said. “It’s like America is a whole body, and if you chop off a hand, it’s going to hurt the whole body. They’re saying: We’re willing to chop off a hand.”

More on the Trump transition »

joe.mozingo@latimes.com

Twitter: @joemozingo

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