Bernie Sanders' Answer to Black Lives Matter Protesters

August 10th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

Shortly after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) took the stage at a rally in Seattle on Saturday, two Black Lives Matter activists interrupted the speech in an effort to voice their concerns about how he addresses racial injustice and police brutality. They held a moment of silence to honor the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old man who was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson one year ago, and spoke for about 20 minutes before exiting. Sanders allowed the women to take the mic but expressed disappointment over the missed opportunity.

"I think it's unfortunate because, among other things, I wanted to talk about the issues of black lives," he told reporters on his way out. "The fact that the American people are tired of seeing unarmed African Americans shot and killed."

But on Sunday, Sanders rolled out his plans to confront racial injustice nonetheless. In a statement published on his campaign website, the self-described democratic socialist offered an overview of the policies he said he would put into effect if elected president in 2016, broken up into four categories: physical, political, legal, and economic violence. Each section responds to the country's ongoing issues of racial injustice.

Here's a breakdown of Sander's proposal.

Physical violence

Sanders jumped right into problems related to policing, emphasizing the need for a "societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter" and revised police policies at the state and federal level. He advocates for the demilitarization of police departments, mandatory (and federally funded) body cameras, new rules for use of force and new police training programs, and a return to community policing strategies.

"It is an outrage that in these early years of the 21st century we are seeing intolerable acts of violence being perpetuated by police, and racist terrorism by white supremacists," Sanders wrote. "Violence and brutality of any kind, particularly at the hands of the police sworn to protect and serve our communities, is unacceptable and must not be tolerated."

Political violence

Sanders cites the disenfranchisement of Black citizens as one of the most damaging trends to exist in our country. Though restrictive voting laws such as the "literacy tests" that were used throughout America in the 1960s have been expunged, disenfranchisement continues to affect racial minorities in this country, taking the form of voter ID laws and redlining.

In 2014, researchers at MIT found that Black people waited twice as long as whites to vote on average, and in some minority precincts (namely those located in "swing stages") wait times have been known to exceed six hours.

"This should offend the conscience of every American," Sanders commented. "The fight for minority voting rights is a fight for justice. It is inseparable from the struggle for democracy itself."

The presidential primary candidate urged lawmakers to restore the Voting Rights Act, allow those released from prison with felony convictions to vote, and institute a national holiday for Election Day in order to get more people out to the polls.

Legal violence

"It is an obscenity that we stigmatize so many young Americans with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy," Sanders wrote. "This must change."

The War on Drugs is costly and, to a large extent, ineffective. What's more, harsh drug sentencing laws in the U.S. disproportionately affect racial minorities. Too many young men have criminal records for non-violent drug offenses, Sanders said, echoing similar statements delivered by President Obama last month during his criminal justice reform campaign.

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To correct this, the Sanders said he would move to ban private prisons, end the War on Drugs, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, and invest in services that would get at-risk individuals the financial and medical help they need to get their lives back on track.

Economic violence

The last of Sander's four complaints about racial injustice is "economic violence." However, it is exactly that topic, the economics of race relations in America, that has caused him trouble in recent days; Black Lives Matter advocates in particular have taken issue with the candidate's economics-driven tone, finding it inappropriate in the context of growing tension between police and Black communities.

But Sanders makes several good points respecting the issue. He argued that the country's education system must be reformed to allow for greater access to college across racial divides. He also voiced his support for a $5.5 billion investment in federally funded youth employment programs "to employ young people of color who face disproportionately high unemployment rates."

"Let’s be frank: neighborhoods like those in west Baltimore, where Freddie Gray resided, suffer the most. However, the problem of economic immobility isn’t just a problem for young men like Freddie Gray. It has become a problem for millions of Americans who, despite hard-work and the will to get ahead, can spend their entire lives struggling to survive on the economic treadmill."

Sanders spoke about some of his criminal justice proposals at a massive rally of 19,000 supporters in Portland, Oregon, on Sunday. The turnout exceeded the maximum capacity of the NBA arena that the event was held at by 9,000 people. The candidate will hold another rally in Los Angeles on Monday.

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