WASHINGTON -- Jeb Bush said Thursday that former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley does not owe the black community an apology for saying "black lives matter, all lives matter, white lives matter."
"No, for crying out loud," Bush said Thursday in an exchange with reporters in New Hampshire, a video of which was posted online by a Democratic opposition research firm. "No. I mean, we're so uptight and so politically correct now you apologize for saying lives matter?"
The phrase "black lives matter" has become a rallying cry in the wake of high-profile police brutality that has led to the death and unfair treatment of black men and women across the country. The phrase "all lives matter," in contrast, is seen by members of the black community as a tone-deaf response that misses the point and marginalizes brutality against black people at the hands of law enforcement.
Black lives matter protesters booed O'Malley at a progressive conference in Nevada on Saturday, and he later said he regretted coming off as "insensitive" about police brutality toward the black community. His rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was also interrupted by protesters at the event, and has since come out hard against the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was found hanging from her cell in a Texas jail three days after a routine traffic stop.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic frontrunner, made clear where she stood on the matter earlier this week when she wrote on Facebook that "Black lives matter. Everyone in this country should stand firmly behind that." But she, too, faced criticism last month for saying "all lives matter" at a historically black church in Missouri.
Bush, an early frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, said Thursday that he didn't see a problem with how O'Malley acknowledged that all life matters.
"Life is precious, it's a gift from God. I frankly think it's one of the most important values we have," he said. "I know in the political context, it's a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No. If he believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn't apologize with a group that seemed to disagree with it."
At her own campaign event Thursday in South Carolina, where last month a white man committed a horrific massacre at a historic black church, Clinton described the phrase differently. She argued that it wasn't merely a slogan, but rather a crucial understanding in the fight against racial inequality.
"I think we first have to acknowledge and believe that black lives matter. This is not just a slogan, this should be a guiding principle," she said in West Columbia, arguing that America needed to address "systemic racism" in how it polices its communities.
The remarks of the two candidates illustrate how both are taking their own approach to woo party faithful early in the primary season. Bush's decision to dismiss the protesters, however, may end up costing him black voters in the general election -- should he succeed making it there.