Dr. Jason Johnson discusses criminal justice in the Trump era. Other panelists include Benjamin Crump and host, Al Sharpton.
As the race for the Democratic nomination gets tighter, the serious gaps between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and the black Democratic voters they seek become more and more apparent.
The Clinton name in the black community has retroactively sunk faster than the names Tavis Smiley, Bill Cosby and Stacey Dash combined. Her campaign’s grotesque race-baiting in the 2008 primary against then-Sen. Barack Obama is still fresh on the minds of many voters. Combine that with Clinton’s silence on the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald case, and her years as a “tough on crime” advocate in the ’90s, and it’s apparent that these missteps have made her a tough sell for many black voters.
Sanders, for his part, isn’t doing much better. Sanders seems to have all but discovered that black people existed last summer. He is a nonentity with the Congressional Black Caucus, despite having been in the Senate for almost 30 years, and he alienated much of the Black Lives Matter movement with his crusty Larry David impression during the Netroots Nation convention in the summer of 2015.
So, what do these campaigns do? In a move that pushes the envelope regarding both political expediency and decency, the two campaigns have embarked on a Black Lives Matter endorsement primary that seems more about their political lives than the lives of black folks.
What is the Black Lives Matter endorsement primary? It’s the rush from both team Clinton and team Sanders to secure the public support and endorsement of victims. Yes, victims of horrible acts of violence by police officers, vigilantes and eventually the justice system. Moving beyond elected officials or public activists, both Democratic candidates have sought endorsements from the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and others. Starting late last year, several members of those families have actually come out and publicly endorsed one campaign or another.
|Families of the Slain||Bernie Sanders||Hillary Clinton|
|Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin||X|
|Benjamin Crump, attorney for Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice families||X|
|Justin Bamberg, lawyer for Walter Scott family||X (Switched from Clinton)|
|Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner||X|
|Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner||X|
|Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice||Met with Clinton|
|Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown||Met with Clinton|
|Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland||Met with Sanders|
Endorsements are extremely important during political primaries; the more endorsements you get, the more likely you are to win your party’s nomination, especially at the presidential level. A senator’s endorsement gives you access to donors and voter lists, while a mayor may introduce you to local activists and volunteers.
None of these men and women in the Black Lives Matter primary, however, are elected officials, and none of them have stocks of cash. It’s not even clear that African-American voters would be moved by the endorsement of any of these people, despite their notoriety. Is it even appropriate to ask or accept the support of victims’ families? More important, why are these campaigns so desperate for these symbolic taps of authenticity?
“I find it downright vulgar and basic,” said Niambi Carter, a professor of political science at Howard University. “These endorsements are a way for these candidates to skirt past the serious issues facing the black community by saying, ‘Hey, I’m down with this family that’s suffered a tremendous loss.’”
Politics is a cynical game, and although it’s possible that both campaigns just want to rack up as many black endorsements as possible—no matter who the endorsers are—it still begs the question as to whether any real policies are being offered that could have changed the suffering of these families.
“If Bernie got Erica’s [Garner] vote, he did something to earn it,” said Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a prominent state senator representing Ferguson, Mo., and an advocate within the Black Lives Matter movement.
Chappelle-Nadal, who has yet to endorse any presidential candidate, has nonetheless been approached by both campaigns. She notes the importance of Black Lives Matter endorsements from elected officials but thinks that endorsements from victims’ families are a different thing entirely.
“I like Lesley,” she said, referring to Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother. “But this is not about her only. … If [a candidate is endorsed by] Mike Brown Sr., then maybe her endorsement doesn’t mean as much. Everyone has their own thing.”
It’s a result that we’ve already seen in the Black Lives Matter endorsement primary in a somewhat awkward way. In late January, Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, penned an essay endorsing Clinton. Just over a week later, Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, wrote an essay endorsing Sanders in the Washington Post. Justin Bamberg, a state representative in South Carolina and lawyer for Walter Scott’s family, initially endorsed Clinton, then switched after a sit-down with Sanders. In none of these cases do these endorsements make any real policy distinctions between the Democratic candidates. Which makes the aggressive pursuit of these endorsements by campaigns more about symbolism than any actual policy changes.
While it may be harsh to say, these families have nothing significant about them other than the fact that their loved ones were victims of police or vigilante violence and a corrupt and racist justice system. And that, unfortunately, is a fraternity of pain that actually has many more members than the short list of people who have become well known and whose endorsements are being so desperately sought.
The degree to which any member of any victim’s family feels the need to endorse a particular candidate is his or her prerogative. However, given both candidates’ newfound religion when it comes to criminal justice, this Black Lives Matter endorsement primary smacks of exploiting, in the name of political symbols and campaign expediency, families who are desperate for hope and justice. With so little to stand upon to earn the black vote, Clinton and Sanders are willing to cover up the holes in their own policy histories with lives of slain African Americans. Hopefully they’ll care more about black lives in the future than they have in their policy pasts.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.
If you live in one of the 10 or so swing states for the 2016 presidential election, about 12 hours ago, you started getting bombarded with zillions of ads.
Whether they’re ads suggesting that Marco Rubio is an absentee senator or ads in which Donald Trump is promising to build a wall against Mexicans or Martin O’Malley is reminding you that he’s still actually running, their goal is to make you think the presidential election is the only important one in the country. But it isn’t.
Throughout 2016, The Root will be running a series called Race Watch 2016, in which we will highlight local races, policies, elections and issues that may not be getting national press but still deserve attention. We encourage you to write, donate and get involved in each of these elections. It may be your district, or maybe not, but whatever happens in these races has an impact on us all.
What’s the Election?
Florida, like many states, allows voters to elect local state attorneys. State attorneys are incredibly powerful and influential when it comes to issues of justice, jurisprudence and basic maintenance of rights, especially for African Americans. For every Marilyn Mosby who makes the nation exhale that perhaps justice will be done, there are literally hundreds of other state attorneys who don’t take their jobs seriously, who don’t perform their duties with integrity and whom voters should really consider in terms of whether or not they serve their communities.
Angela B. Corey, to represent Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit, covering Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
Corey’s name has faded into history over the last several years as high-profile cases with horrific videos have dominated the news, but her office is at ground zero for some of the most egregiously incompetent trial failures in recent history. Corey’s office prosecuted the horribly mismanaged trial of George Zimmerman, in which both her strategy and the effort of her office to secure a conviction came into question.
Since she was functioning as an objective officer of the court, no one expected her to pull a Chris Darden when Zimmerman got off, but you would have thought she was going to the Zimmerman team’s after-party, given her smirking, glib press conference after the trial. Corey also initially failed to get a murder conviction against Michael Dunn, who shot into a car full of black teenagers at a gas station, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis, because he thought their music was too loud. (Dunn was later convicted in a retrial.)
Despite Corey’s ambivalence or incompetence in pursuing justice for the killing of unarmed black teenagers at the hands of white, cisgender male vigilantes, she seemed to have no problem seeking first a 20-year, then a 60-year sentence against Marissa Alexander, a black woman who fired warning shots to stave off her abusive husband. Corey has one of the lowest legal ratings of any state attorney in Florida, and when Law & Order: Special Victims Unit makes an episode about your shoddy legal work and has to add in a Paula Deen character to hammer home the point, perhaps it’s time for local voters to consider other options.
Corey is a Republican who first ran in 2008; was re-elected in 2012, when she ran unopposed; and is now running for a third term in 2016. Right now her only challenger in the Republican primary is Wes White, her former assistant state attorney. And lest you get the impression that he would somehow be an improvement either legally or ideologically, his primary complaint about Corey is that she was “too harsh” on George Zimmerman.
Why Does This Election Matter?
Perhaps you believe that Trayvon Martin had it coming to him from Zimmerman. Perhaps you believe Michael Dunn when he said he saw a gun pointed at him from a group of teenagers in a car. Further, let’s say that you sincerely believe in the strict interpretation of “Stand your ground” laws and consider Alexander not to have violated the law when she shot at her abusive husband. Even if those are what you believe, the state did not. In each case, the state sought to prosecute these men and women for various crimes, and in each case, Corey’s office failed miserably and publicly to accomplish the state’s goals.
Symbolically, this is an incredibly important election not just for the state of Florida but also for African Americans in general. In the wake of Ferguson, Mo., there has been a great deal of hand-wringing and cloth-rending about how black folks should get out and vote. However, in the elections held after high-profile incidents of police misconduct (in Ferguson, in North Charleston, S.C., etc.), black turnout was still low and true reform candidates of either party didn’t get elected.
What Can You Do?
In the case of Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit, there is an opportunity for some ambitious candidate to challenge Corey and truly represent the interests of the people. If you don’t live in Florida, you can keep the spotlight on this race by writing the local newspapers, contacting local organizations to draft a challenger candidate, or even donating money to parties or organizations that might put some pressure on the candidates who’ve already announced.
There are critical elections in every state in 2016, and if the black community can start by targeting a candidate who fails at her most basic duties, regardless of party, we just might bring about the change that the presidential candidates consistently fail to bring.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.
On America Tonight on Al Jazeera America, Dr. Jason Johnson and Joie Chen discuss the political impact of stand your ground laws, as well as incidents such as the shooting deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Trayvon Martin in Florida.