In what appears to be both an acknowledgement and response to the American Black Lives Matter movement, Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has made racial justice a new key element of his campaign platform.
On his website, Sanders stresses that “we must pursue policies that transform this country into a nation that affirms the value of its people of color,” specifying that black and brown Americans face four “central types of violence”: physical, political, legal and economic. The new platform refers directly to racially-biased police actions and acknowledges that much of the violence that non-white citizens endure is administered via the state itself.
Sanders’ campaign expounds:
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.
As partial solutions to a deeply-entrenched problem, Sanders calls for the demilitarization of police departments nationwide, better training of officers, federal funding for body cameras and much more diligent investigations of officers suspected of racial profiling or biased punishment. Additionally, the new campaign platform calls for a restoration of the Voting Rights Act and allowing convicted convicted felons who have served out their sentences to be allowed to vote in elections.
According to The Huffington Post, Sanders directly acknowledged the disputed death of Michael Brown during a campaign rally in Portland Sunday night. Brown, and 18 year-old black man was shot while unarmed during a confrontation with Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson on August 9th, 2014.
The new commitment to racial justice as a specific campaign platform is an intriguing one for Sanders, who up until this week has made economic issues the main planks of his campaign for the Democratic nomination. A staunch critic of late Capitalism and the economic inequality that currently courses through our country, Sanders was forced to respond to cries of racial injustice in a much more urgent fashion after protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement rushed the stage at a campaign stop in Seattle, forcing the candidate off the podium and into the crosshairs of their movement. Referencing gentrification and police violence, the protesters were quoted as claiming “The problem with Sanders’… is that [he is] utterly and totally useless in terms of the fight for Black lives.” Now, at least in terms of campaign trail rhetoric, that seems to be changing. Watch video from the Seattle interruption below.