SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California man singled out by Donald Trump as “my African-American” said Monday that he is now the target of harsh criticism, including comments he feels are more racist than the remark by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Trump’s reference to Gregory Cheadle at a California campaign rally on Friday is bringing criticism to Trump for his possessive comment, but also to Cheadle for attending in the first place.

Cheadle said Monday that he wasn’t there to back Trump and that he is considering other possibilities as well, including Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But he didn’t take offense over Trump’s remark. In fact, he had Trump autograph two campaign placards at the rally in Redding, California.

“You would not believe the hate-filled messages that I get. Those messages, by those people claiming that Trump is a racist, are infinitely far more damning and racist than Trump’s statement ever could have been misconstrued to portray,” Cheadle said in a telephone interview.

Trump pointed Cheadle out while he was in the midst of describing a past campaign event in which Trump said a black supporter punched a protester wearing a “Ku Klux Klan outfit.”

He interrupted himself to point to Cheadle, who was holding a Veterans for Trump poster.

“Oh, look at my African American over here,” Trump said. “Look at him. Are you the greatest? You know what I’m talking about? OK!”

Cheadle, 59, a Republican who is running a long-shot campaign for Congress, said he originally stopped by to hand out his own campaign literature but went in after a friend gave him credentials to get near the front of the crowd. Someone else gave him the Trump campaign sign to shade his bald head from a blazing sun in triple-digit temperatures that caused several people to collapse.

It wasn’t until hours later that Cheadle realized Trump’s remark had gone viral. He said much of the criticism has come from fellow blacks who don’t know him personally.

“Social media is ripping me apart,” he said Monday. “I think it’s this mindset of, if you’re a black man, you can’t do certain things. You shouldn’t be at a Trump rally. You shouldn’t do it. And I’m not that way. … I tend to think for myself and not have someone think for me. But as a consequence that takes me out of the black, quote-unquote, arena and places me in a white arena — and so oftentimes blacks take offense at that.”

Cheadle said he considers actions by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to be racist because they supported get-tough crime measures in the 1990s that led to the mass incarceration of black men.

Cheadle said he is not upset with his critics. “I understand their anger because they don’t know the whole story,” he said.
Associated Press