2016 Presidential Candidates on the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

Black History Month celebrates the contributions of Black Americans. We recognize the achievements of historical social reformers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. As Black History Month comes to a close, I think it’s appropriate to celebrate the Black Lives Matter activists who have done a tremendous job creating social awareness to the racial injustice Black Americans face in this country every day. More and more people are accepting this injustice and demanding government officials to fix this problem.  On Super Tuesday and as part two of our three-part series, we are taking a look at the remaining presidential contenders’ positions on the Movement and how exactly they’re addressing it.

We start with a snapshot of each candidate’s stance.

Hillary Clinton (D):  “Black lives matter. Everyone in this country should stand firmly behind that.”

Bernie Sanders (D): “Black lives matter…We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom…”

Ben Carson (R): “We need to talk about what the real issues are and not get caught up in silliness like this matters or that matters… Of course all lives matter.”

Ted Cruz (R): “If you look at the Black Lives Matter movement, one of the most disturbing things is more than one of their protests have embraced rabid rhetoric, rabid anti-police language, literally suggesting and embracing and celebrating the murder of police officers.”

John Kasich (R):  “All lives do matter – black lives matter, especially now, because there’s a fear in these communities that justice isn’t working for them. But it’s about balance.”

Marco Rubio (R):  “This is a legitimate issue. We do need to face this. It is a serious problem in this country.”

Donald Trump (R): “I think they’re trouble… .And I think it’s a disgrace that they are getting away with it….The fact is, all lives matter.”


Like their views on police reform, which we discussed in the first post of this series, the Democratic candidates have a stronger grasp of the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement than their Republican competitors. While both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton seem to be receptive, the Republicans’ views range from a declaration that there must be a “balance,” according to Governor Kasich, and a complete disregard for the movement, claiming it as irresponsible and even offensive, according to Senator Cruz and Donald Trump.

Surprisingly, in an article by Vox titled “Marco Rubio shows other Republicans how to respond to Black Lives Matter,” Senator Rubio receives praise for acknowledging that the Black Lives Matter movement is advocating for necessary change. He even shares the story of an African American friend who has been stopped by police eight to nine times in the last 18 months. Rubio’s outlook is still a long way from that of the Democratic contenders, and even farther from the Black Lives Matter Movement’s goals, but at least he understands that the issues addressed by the Black Lives Matter movement do, in fact, exist, and deserve attention by those in power.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton were interrupted by Black Lives Matter activists during campaign events; activists interrupted Hillary during her speech on criminal justice at Clark University in Atlanta, and Sanders at a rally in Seattle. By doing so, the activists called attention to their disappointment in both candidates, but the interruptions are also signs of tentative support, showing they are optimistic that the Democrats could be open to the Movement. In contrast, some activists say interrupting speeches or trying to meet with most of the Republican candidates would be “almost a waste of our time” since most Republican candidates have not even tried to understand the Black Lives Matter goals.  One activist explained, “That’s why we are having these conversations and we are forcing this dialogue with Democrats: because we’d have a chance to actually reach them.”

Still, some voters cannot get past former President Bill Clinton’s role in pushing for criminal justice policies that have proved to be disastrous. He has admitted that the bill was a mistake and worsened the criminal justice system. Among other components, the 1994 “tough on crime” bill introduced the three strikes provision and longer sentences for minor crimes. While her husband was the leading force behind the bill, Secretary Clinton played a major role in helping it pass, and Senator Sanders voted for it as well.

Nevertheless, Senator Sanders has been applauded for his response to the protestors that have interrupted at least two of his rallies since the start of his campaign. By hiring Black Lives Matter activist Symone Sanders (no relation) to be his national press secretary, Sanders transformed his words into actions, and by doing so, took supporting the Black Lives Matter movement to the next level.

In the first post of this series, we asked the candidates to explain exactly how they will address police reform if they are elected president. We expect similar responses for the issues advocated by the Black Lives Matter movement. We’d like to see the candidates reach out to Black Lives Matter leaders and activists in order to establish a detailed and effective plan for tackling the issues listed on the Black Lives Matter website , including restorative justice and diversity. A modern discussion on these issues is long overdue. We hope all of the candidates will recognize this need, and that they realize the Black Lives Matter platform is an absolutely essential part of the 2016 presidential election.


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