By Josh Richman
Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 at 7:22 am in 2016 presidential election
During the afternoon rewrite of my story on Bernie Sanders’ visit to Oakland, we ended up editing out the paragraph about his dustup with Black Lives Matter activists – so I’ll restore and expand upon it here.
Sanders was about to speak at rally celebrating Social Security and Medicare on Saturday in Seattle when a pair of BLM activists commandeered and then refused to yield the microphone. Rather than getting into it with them, Sanders waded out into the crowd to meet and greet supporters.
Sanders issued a statement later Saturday. “I am disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands at which I was invited to speak about fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare,” he said. “I was especially disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.”
During Monday’s event at National Nurses United headquarters in Oakland, NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro was first to broach the topic, as she introduced Sanders. There was huge public outcry when an American dentist poached the beloved lion, Cecil, in Zimbabwe, DeMoro noted, “but where was that outrage about Sandra Bland?”
“The nurses don’t make choices among people, they want to help all people,” DeMoro said, drawing applause and cheers from the audience of red-shirted nurses. “Nurses know why Black Lives Matter needs to be amplified.”
During a question-and-answer period with nurses both there in Oakland and video-conferenced in from across the nation, a Chicago nurse asked Sanders about the movement that’s calling attention to police killings and about disproportionate incarceration of African Americans.
“When we talk about creating a new America, at the top of our list is to end racism in all its ugly forms,” he responded. “All of us were nauseated when we saw the videos, whether it was Sandra bland or other people – we know that if these people were white, they would not be dragged out of their car and thrown into jail.”
He said he wants and America in which “police departments do not look like military occupiers,” but instead are engaged in community policing methods and are outfitted with body cameras. Policing is a tough job, he said, but “when a police officer commits a crime, that officer must be held accountable.”
He also called for ending minimum sentencing for nonviolent crimes, and doing more to provide a path from incarceration back into the community. “You’re not going to have that when people leave jail without jobs, without education and in some cases without the mental health care that they need,” he said. “And I want our kids to have jobs and education, not be hanging around street corners with nothing to do.”
Someone shouted from the back of the room to ask whether black lives matter to him. “Yes,” Sanders replied.
Some BLM activists have suggested that white allies shouldn’t presume to dictate what tactics are and aren’t appropriate for the movement. So, during a question-and-answer period with local and national media, I reminded Sanders that Oakland has been the site of considerable racial outrage, with the most recent spate dating from Oscar Grant’s killing by a BART police officer on New Year’s Day 2009 through last year’s protests after Michael Brown’s killing by a police offcer in Ferguson, Mo. I asked what he thought of the tactics used by Oakland protestors – from nonviolent demonstration through substantial property damage – as well as by the BLM activists who had pre-empted him in Seattle.
Rather than discuss tactics, Sanders chose to reiterate his stance on goals. “The goals of the Black Lives Matter movement are absolutely right,” he said, adding that if he’s elected president, “we are going to end institutional racism;” reform the criminal justice system to reduce incarceration; and enact policies to provide jobs and free public college education for youth of color. He said his record shows “there is no candidate who will be stronger” on such issues.Leave a comment