Does the Black Lives Matter demand an ideological purity that would make the once mighty Kremlin blush? Twice the Black Lives Matter movement has disrupted a Bernie Sander's event, more recently in the very liberal Seattle where Sanders undoubtedly thought he would be on ideological home turf and the first in Phoenix at a Netroots Nation conference. When Sanders was confronted the first time, he retorted: ""Black lives, of course, matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and for dignity,"
Is Sanders' problem with the movement that he is simply an old white guy from the overwhelmingly white state of Vermont and seems out of touch with urban realities? On the other hand, do the activists who disrupted the speech speak for the movement at large? After all, it is the Republicans who equivocate by arguing that any talk of racial tensions is itself divisive, as if the mere discussion alone and not the root causes of the problem is what is causing divisions.
We know in black communities the police often act as an occupying force as opposed to those paid to serve and protect. Sanders would be the first to acknowledge this reality. In fact, he stated: "From Ferguson to Baltimore and across this nation, too many African-Americans and other minorities find themselves subjected to a system that treats citizens who have not committed crimes as if they were criminals, and that is unacceptable."
In too many places such as Ferguson, Missouri, the police force and even elected officials are overwhelmingly white among an often impoverished population of overwhelmingly black citizens. Also, the events in Ferguson brought to light the fact that the local municipal budgets are heavily dependent on tickets written by officers acting as a heavy tax on constituents and feeding resentment. Sanders again would be the first to acknowledge this exploitation of local minority residents.
He speaks as well against mass incarceration and the insidious practice of contracting out our prison systems over to private corporations only interested in the bottom line. "Our criminal justice system is out of control," Sanders told MSNBC. "The number of African-Americans and Hispanics who are in jails is disproportionately high." He speaks forcefully on restoring full voting rights in national elections to felons who are no longer in prison, as well as defending voting rights against the insidious voting suppression efforts of the right, which is a modern day Jim Crow. He supports a $15 an hour minimum wage. Finally, Sanders has long spoken eloquently on growing income disparities and its negative impact on the economy. Thus, he is almost a civil rights champion straight from central casting!
However, according to the National Review: "Secondly, progressive Democrats historically don't do well among minority voters in primaries. Perhaps it's because trendy issues such as global warming, NSA wiretaps, gay marriage, and campaign-finance reform have less resonance with minority voters. There are almost no blacks at environmental rallies and many Hispanics and blacks actually have conservative social views. Perhaps minority voters prefer Democrats who they think can get things done and not just pontificate from a base of academic abstractions. Sanders clearly has a minority deficit. The latest Washington Post poll finds Hillary Clinton leading him by 56 percent to 14 percent among white Democrats. But among minority Democrats, he trails by a whopping 72 percent to 5 percent."
According to an article by Kevin J. Kelley: "Sanders' tiny degree of support in minority communities reflects his scant name recognition there in contrast with Clinton's. But it also stems from Sanders' general silence on race issues during his eight years as Burlington mayor, 16 years as a U.S. House member and nine years in the U.S. Senate."
So Sanders has to learn to speak of economic disparities and social justice through a racial lens. After all, it would be remiss to mention that the Black Lives Matter movement seemingly has had a positive effect on his outreach to minorities and his message. Sanders soon after the Netroots Nation protest addressed racial justice on his website. It was titled "Physical Violence Perpetrated by the State" and read: "Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Samuel DuBose. We know their names. Each of them died unarmed at the hands of police officers or in police custody. The chants are growing louder. People are angry and they have a right to be angry. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that this violence only affects those whose names have appeared on TV or in the newspaper. African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police."
Perhaps this emphasis on real world events instead of abstractions about economic justice will help Sanders with the activists in the Black Lives Matter movement and people of color in general. However, it would be remiss for such activists to let the perfect be the enemy of the good! When activists confronted Sanders in Seattle they said: "If you do not listen ... your event will be shut down," The difference is Sanders listens.