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World & Nation

Civil rights figures highlight Wednesday’s Democratic National Convention

Rep. Andre Carson
Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana speaks on the third day of the Democratic National Convention.
(Saul Loeb / AFP-Getty Images)

The Democratic National Convention gave a stage to prominent civil rights activists and black Americans on Wednesday night in remarks focused on diversity, the Flint, Mich., water crisis and gun violence.

Although Black Lives Matter figures — such as the Mothers of the Movement, who spoke Tuesday in emotional speeches about their children, many of whom died in police shootings — weren’t highlighted, the lineup of speakers Wednesday sent a strong message about the role Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton sees race, religion and civil rights playing if she becomes president.

They also sent a message to Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose supporters are overwhelmingly white.

“You want to know why your polling numbers are so dismal among African Americans? I will tell you,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, one of six representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus who took the stage together early in the night.

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“We know you have gotten rich through your business, but we also know your wealth” has grown “at the expense of other people,” Butterfield, the caucus chairman, said.

“Black lives matter!” chants erupt at the convention. »

One by one, the representatives made their case for Clinton, often bashing Trump’s relationship to African Americans.

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“We know you have no plan to address issues directly affecting African Americans,” Butterfield said, citing voting rights, gun violence and the struggles of historically black colleges and universities.

Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana said Trump had insulted him not only as a black man but as a Muslim.

“I stand here ... as a young African American Muslim and former police officer,” said Carson, 41, one of two Muslims in Congress. “Millions of good-hearted Muslims and African Americans like me have watched the deep-seated hatred of the past once again become mainstream.”

In an earlier segment of the night on “Our America,” Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim American schoolteacher who was forced to resign from her post at an Arabic-language-themed middle school in Brooklyn, N.Y., after accusations that she was an extremist, gave a nod toward her work as an interfaith activist and threw her support behind Clinton.

Later, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, whose poor, majority-black city became a national flashpoint after reports of residents becoming ill from its poisoned water supply, talked after a video that showed Clinton praying with black residents in church.

Hillary said, ‘I will do everything to help you get back up,’ ” she said, adding that the lead poisoning city residents have suffered has become a “national crisis, not just a Flint crisis.”

Saying that the black vote is crucial to the presidential election, the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave wide-ranging remarks that, in typical Jackson fashion, sounded like a cross between a political speech and a short but fiery sermon.

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“Stop insulting Hispanics; stop insulting Muslims now!” the veteran civil rights leader said, adding that it is “healing time; it is hope time!”

The onetime presidential candidate spoke out against gun violence and for women’s rights, and called on Americans to come together in the midst of a “stormy season of violent campaign rhetoric.”

“There is a tug of war for Americans’ soul,” Jackson said.

Clinton, he said, is the answer.

After a series of racially charged shootings of black men by police and shootings targeting police this month, former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey also addressed Democrats, calling for better relations between police and the communities they serve.

“The bond between law enforcement and communities are frayed, but we can’t play to Americans’ worst fears,” he said. “We need to champion our greatest hopes. Hillary will. She’ll bring police and communities together.”

Later, the two survivors of a white supremacist’s shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, shared words with thousands gathered at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.

“Hate destroys those who harbor it. I refuse to let hate destroy me,” said Sanders, whose son, Tywanza Sanders, died in the shooting that killed nine black churchgoers gathered for Bible study on June 17, 2015.

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“The shooter in Charleston had hate in his heart. The shooter in Orlando had hate in his heart. And the shooter in Dallas did too,” Sheppard said, applauding Clinton for speaking out about racism after the shooting.

“As Scripture says, love never fails. And I choose love.”

jaweed.kaleem@latimes.com

Jaweed Kaleem is The Times’ national race and justice correspondent. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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UPDATES:

6 p.m.: The story was updated with comments by Philadelphia’s former​ police commissioner and survivors of the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C.

5:50 p.m.: The story was updated with quotes and speeches.

The story was originally posted at 2:55 p.m.


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