Disrupting Speeches, Protesters Challenge Sanders and O’Malley: Say ‘Black Lives Matter!’

Tia Oso of the National Coordinator for Black Immigration Network joins moderator Jose Antonio Vargas and Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley onstage. ||| twitter

Raising the profile of Black women killed by police violence, demonstration forces candidates to address racial injustice

By Lauren McCauley

Demanding that pervasive racial injustice and police brutality against people of color be addressed on the campaign trail, protesters with the Black Lives Matter movement interrupted speeches by Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley Saturday evening.

Cutting off O’Malley’s prepared remarks during the annual Netroots Nation convention in Phoenix, Arizona, activist Patrisse Cullors described the urgency driving the protest. “Let me be clear—every single day people are dying, not able to take another breath,” she said. “We are in a state of emergency. If you do not feel that emergency, then you are not human. I want to hear concrete action plans.”

Protesters said they were galvanized by this week’s one year anniversary of the police killing of Eric Garner and the suspicious and tragic death of Sandra Bland. During the event, they chanted and challenged the candidates to “Say her name,” referring to Bland and other women killed while in police custody, and to “Say that black lives matter.”

The action made it clear that the minority vote should not be taken for granted by candidates on the left.

The Guardian reports:

O’Malley was eventually forced offstage, after the protest and his attempts to respond delayed the appearance of Sanders.

O’Malley, who stood patiently throughout the interruption, which was led by Tia Oso, national coordinator for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in Phoenix, attempted to answer questions from activists. He eventually left the stage clapping and saying rhythmically: “Black lives matter, black lives matter, black lives matter.”

Sanders began a prepared introduction – as had been delivered by O’Malley – talking about policies, including media bias and the need for a raised minimum wage. Chants of “black lives matter” and either “save our men” or “say her name” then broke out again.

“Black lives of course matter,” Sanders said. “I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and dignity, but if you don’t want me to be here that’s OK. I don’t want to out-scream people.”

Speaking with Buzzfeed after the event, Angela Peoples, co-director of LGBTQ rights group Get Equal, said the activists wanted to hear specific steps from the candidates on how they’re going to address the issue of police violence as well as the overarching issue of institutional racism. The minority community wants to hear the demands and principles of “black lives matter” reflected in their campaign, she said.

Peoples added that Sanders talking about income inequality isn’t enough.

“We can not talk about income inequality as if that’s going to be the silver bullet that protects black and brown lives when they’re in police custody or when they’re being profiled and killed by the police,” she said.

In an interview with journalist David Dayen, protest organizer Ashley Yeats echoed those same ideas. When asked how a candidate can bridge the divide between racial and economic justice when speaking to the progressive community, she said:

When you talk about economic justice, who’s the poorest of the poor? Talk about gentrification, talk about mass displacement. Talk about the things that actually lead to poverty. Who is affected by that? Talk about whose neighborhoods are flooded with really harmful drugs. Talk about who’s denied access to resources. Talk about who [isn’t]? that is all in black and brown neighborhoods. So if you’re doing economic justice but you’re not talking to black and brown people, you’re not actually doing economic justice. So that’s the challenge I pose and that’s how you bridge the gap, get people to realize that if you’re talking about economic issues, black people are part of every category.

Yeats also said she wants to hear “actual steps that show you’re thinking about something,” using “simple and clear language.”

Saturday’s protest specifically aimed to raise the profile of Black women victims and challenge presidential hopefuls to respond to these issues in “real time.” The candidates, Yeats continued, “claim that they represent all of America, but then you get up there and you see when they’re pressured on issues that are specifically black they fumble.”

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