Attorney For Police Shooting Victim Switches Endorsement To Bernie Sanders

CREDIT: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Mara Jacqueline Willaford, left, holds her fist overhead as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle.

Hillary Clinton has received a slew of endorsements in recent weeks from family members and advocates for police brutality victims, including Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Walter Scott. But on Monday, one of those endorsers announced that he had changed his mind.

An attorney for the family of Scott, a 50-year-old black father who was killed by a North Charleston police officer last year, announced he was switching his endorsement and supporting Bernie Sanders. Justin Bamberg, who is also a South Carolina state representative, told ThinkProgress he had not previously given Sanders a fair chance.

“I’ve always liked Bernie, even when I endorsed Hillary,” he said. “When I say that I didn’t give Bernie Sanders his fair shake as a candidate, I mean that I did not take the time to listen and really look at what he was offering. One thing I really like about Bernie Sanders is that he’s not a status quo type of guy.”

Though he had been considering switching his endorsement in recent months, he said the “tipping point” came when he had a chance to sit down with Sanders, one on one, during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally at the statehouse in Columbia, SC. Bamberg and Sanders discussed Scott’s case and criminal justice reform.

“He noted that [the Scott case] is another example of why it’s important that we as a country begin to look at seriously addressing the problems we have with criminal justice and with law enforcement and community relations,” he said.

Bamberg said the decision was mainly based on economic justice issues including Sanders’ proposals for universal health care, free college tuition, and the elimination of big money from politics. He noted that Sanders and Clinton’s criminal justice platforms are similar and both candidates understand the changes that need to be made to policing and justice in this country.

“My decision to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders is a testament — a testament to my personal belief that one of the greatest things about our democracy is that we can evaluate candidates on an ongoing basis,” Bamberg said in a press conference Monday. “It’s important that I show my constituents that we as Americans have the right to choose.”

This presidential election cycle is the first in which candidates have tried to secure endorsements from racial justice advocates and family members, and both Clinton and Sanders are battling over this new, high-profile constituency. Clinton was the first to sit down with a group of mothers of police brutality and gun violence victims, but Sanders has also been actively attempting to secure their support. The demographic is especially important as a recent report found that more than half of black millennials said in 2009 that they knew a victim of police violence.

Bamberg’s endorsement is one way for the Sanders campaign to secure that voter bloc before the South Carolina primary on February 27. Walter Scott’s family is relying on Bamberg to convict Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer who shot and killed Scott when a routine traffic stop escalated in April 2015. Scott’s brother, Anthony, told ThinkProgress in September that Walter likely ran from the officer because he was behind on child support payments and feared going to jail.

As a state lawmaker, Bamberg has proposed legislation to eliminate the quota system in South Carolina. North Charleston police officers are instructed to make at least three stops per day, and attorneys for both Scott and Slager have argued that the rule likely contributed to Scott’s death.

Bamberg’s decision to switch his endorsement to Sanders is a strong affirmation of the senator’s criminal justice proposals. He said that Sanders seems receptive to thinking about a national ban on quotas, even though it’s not a topic he has addressed directly.

“Bernie Sanders has a very high interest in helping mend the relationship between law enforcement and the citizens they serve,” he said.

After repeatedly being interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters during campaign events last summer, Sanders introduced a comprehensive criminal justice platform that focuses on different forms of violence against people of color in the United States, including physical violence from law enforcement. The platform includes solutions like demilitarizing police forces, investing in community policing, and creating more diverse police forces. And it includes a mention of Walter Scott, among a long list of victims.



CREDIT: AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton

“We know their names,” Sanders’ racial justice platform reads. “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.”

Clinton, who has also been interrupted by activists, has said she supports the movement and has sat down to meet with its members. She has also released a racial justice platform, although it has not been received as well by activists. Prominent organizer Deray McKesson wrote on Twitter that her proposals are not “basically the same” as Sanders’ because Clinton is silent on community oversight and supports the death penalty.

Bamberg’s announcement sets him apart from many relatives and advocates of racial justice, who have formally endorsed Clinton. Sybrina Fulton, whose unarmed 17-year-old son Trayvon Martin was gunned down in 2012, published an endorsement for Clinton on CNN’s website.

Fulton’s endorsement focused entirely on Clinton’s strong support for gun control. “I agree with the President: We should only support leaders that fight for common-sense gun reforms,” she wrote. “Clinton passes that test.”

Gwen Carr, whose son Eric Garner was killed when a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold in July 2014, wrote on Clinton’s campaign website that she was endorsing Clinton because of her support for gun control measures. Her endorsement briefly mentioned the need to “confront the effects of police brutality,” but did not explain why Clinton is the better candidate on that issue.

Even though he’s switching his endorsement from Clinton, Bamberg said that he and the family members who have endorsed her still agree on most issues that the next president needs to address.

“You can agree on issues without agreeing on who may be the best person to resolve those issues,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind that I have the same concerns that they do and want the same issues addressed as they do.”