Justice

How The Democratic Presidential Candidates Responded To The Black Lives Matter Question

CREDIT: AP Images/Dylan Petrohilos

Following months of back and forth with Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists, the Democratic presidential candidates were asked, “do black lives matter or do all lives matter?” at the first Democratic debate. Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton all called for systemic reforms to end mass incarceration and racial inequality. But while O’Malley and Sanders have both released policy proposals for how to do that, Clinton is the only major Democratic candidate who has yet to release a comprehensive plan to reform the criminal justice system.

A law student posed the initial question to Sanders, who did not hesitate to respond “black lives matter.” Sanders then pointed to Sandra Bland’s death in jail, mass incarceration, and institutional racism. O’Malley, who apologized to the Black Lives Matter movement for saying “all lives matter” earlier this year, also stated firmly that black lives matter, and that the “movement is making is a very, very legitimate and serious point, and that is that as a nation we have undervalued the lives of black lives, people of color.” O’Malley similarly segued to the need for criminal justice reform.

Clinton also touched on the need for solutions to mass incarceration, “including things like body cameras,” but pivoted to economic issues, calling for a New Deal for people of color. “I believe that the debate, and the discussion has to go further, Anderson, because we’ve got to do more about the lives of these children. That’s why I started off by saying we need to be committed to making it possible for every child to live up to his or her god given potential,” she said, concluding with a demand for universal pre-school and housing reforms.

Watch the full exchange:

Ever since Netroots Nation in July, when BLM activists disrupted speaking engagements by Sanders and O’Malley, the topic of state-backed police violence against black communities has been at the forefront of the election cycle. Both candidates were initially viewed as weak on the subject of criminal justice reform and the plight of black communities, but have since released comprehensive platforms after meeting with BLM representatives. Sanders’ tackles racial justice, sentencing reform, restoring and protecting rights for convicted felons, and ending police violence that disproportionately targets people of color. O’Malley’s plan similarly zeroes in on sentencing reform and the economic and political rights of convicted felons. But his plan does not concede that police violence is a systemic problem unique to communities of color.

Clinton has also met with BLM several times in the past few months and called for criminal justice reform. After taking heat for the private prison lobbyists fundraising on her behalf, Clinton also told activists that she wants to eliminate the private prison industry. Unlike her competitors, she has yet to release a detailed platform — and some in the movement feel that Clinton has not gone far enough to support their cause.