Tuesday night’s highly anticipated Democratic debate brought burning questions to the five candidates who took the Las Vegas stage, but no one question held more potential to boost (or break) a campaign than an inquiry about Black lives in America.
Posed to the candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malleyand Jim Webb — via Facebook video, the question of whether Black Lives Matter versus “all lives” was a welcome mention for activists and organizers who have spent nearly the whole year urging candidates to consider state violence that disproportionately affects communities of color.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hit the ground running, making the simple declaration that Black lives do, in fact, matter. With no qualms or buts, Sanders made a passionate plea for America to adopt the movement, mentioning both institutional racism and Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old Black woman found dead in a Texas jail cell this summer.
“Black lives matter,” he said. “We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom. And we need major major reforms in a broken criminal justice system, in which we have more people in jail than China.”
Clinton, who met with Black Lives Matter activists just last week to discuss the movement, navigated the direct question with complication, refusing to repeat the refrain but using the moment as an opportunity to tackle criminal justice reform.
“We need to tackle mass incarceration. We cannot imprisoning more people than anyone else in the world,” Clinton said.
Clinton also introduced the idea of a new “New Deal for communities of color,” though, without much detail, voters aren’t sure what the plan entails.