Oct. 25 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump touted criminal justice reform Friday during a visit to Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., as hundreds of people gathered to protest his visit to the historically black college.
The Trump's appearance kicked off the 2019 Second Step Criminal Justice Forum, highlighting the First Step Act, bipartisan legislation Trump signed in December aimed at reducing racial disparity in sentencing. The law resulted in reduced mandatory sentences and the release of thousands of of people in prison for non-violent drug offenses.
Trump supporters and protesters gathered peacefully in Columbia for Trump's visit, The State reported, noting that few Benedict College students were among those invited to attend the president's speech and that most were asked to remain in their dormitory rooms.
One student called Trump's visit "inappropriate" and said the president was "just here to antagonize us," The State reported.
More than half of the 300 seats in the auditorium were given to Trump supporters, many from out of state, The New York Times reported.
"We're thrilled to be on your campus and to celebrate all that we have achieved together and to discuss the actions that we're taking to build a future of safety and opportunity and fairness for all Americans," Trump said.
The 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center, founded in 2015 with 20 black Democrats and 20 black Republicans focused on criminal justice, presented Trump the Bipartisan Justice Award.
"With your help, last year we brought the whole country together to achieve a truly momentous milestone," Trump said, adding that past administrations had failed. "The First Step Act proved that we can achieve amazing breakthroughs when we come together as a nation and we put the interests of our citizens before the interests of any political party."
Trump's appearance at Benedict College came just days after he drew criticism for a tweet calling an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats "a lynching" and on the same day former presidents attended the funeral of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings. Cummings, who died Oct. 17, chaired the House Oversight and Reform Committee, one of three committees investigating the president.
During Friday's speech, Trump, who had criticized Cummings and called his home district of Baltimore a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," praised the black lawmaker's rare passion for lowering prescription drug prices and offered his "warmest respects."
Trump said his administration has helped historically black colleges and universities and slammed the Obama administration and Democratic policies.
The 2019 Second Step Criminal Justice Forum continues through Sunday, with speakers who include Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and U.S. Reps. John Delaney and Tulsi Gabbard.