The Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement continues to insert itself into the 2016 presidential race. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders is trying to build a relationship with the BLM movement. BLM activists stormed the stage preventing Sanders from giving a campaign speech in Seattle. Sanders responded by publishing a racial justice manifesto on his website and hiring Symone D. Sanders, a Black social justice activist, as his national press secretary.
However, in an appearance on Meet The Press on Sunday, Sanders said he had not sent an apology letter to Black Lives Matter activists, even though a letter had been sent out by his staff.
“That was sent out by a staffer, not by me,” Sanders said. “Look, we are reaching out to all kinds of groups, absolutely.”
BuzzFeed published a letter from Marcus Ferrell, southeastern political director/African American outreach director, proposing a meeting with BLM activists and pointing out Sanders’ racial justice manifesto.
Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked Sanders if an apology was still necessary.
“No, I don’t,” Sanders said. “I think we’re going to be working with all groups. This was sent out without my knowledge.”
Although BLM activists have twice interrupted Sanders events over the last two months, he has an extensive background in working on issues concerning the Black community. He campaigned for desegregation during the 1960s and has long been a critic of the War on Drugs, mass incarceration and the militarization of the police, issues he touched on in his racial justice manifesto.
“But on this issue of Black Lives Matter, let me be very clear, the issue that they are raising is a very, very important issue,” Sanders said. “There is no candidate for president who will be stronger in fighting against institutional racism and, by the way, reforming a broken criminal justice system.”
Sanders has faced criticism for his handling of the Black Lives Matter movement, but the issue is somewhat complicated. The BLM movement is a decentralized organization with various chapters using the BLM name, but acting independently. Marissa Janae Johnson and Mara Jacqeline Willaford, the activists who stormed the stage in Seattle, were acting on their own without the approval of the national BLM movement. Johnson also admitted she used to be a supporter of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Johnson and Willaford were later criticized by both white liberals and some BLM activists who said, that of all the presidential candidates, Sanders was the most sympathetic to their cause.
Nikki Stephens, who created the Black Lives Matter: Seattle Facebook page, distances herself from their actions.
‘To the people of Seattle and #BernieSanders I am so sorry for what happened today in Seattle. I am a volunteer who just runs this page and I am only just starting to get into the movement,” Stephens wrote. “I was unaware of what happened and now that I’ve seen the video [of the event] I would like to say again that I am sorry. That is not what Black Lives Matter stands for and that is not what we’re about. Do not let your faith in the movement be shaken by voices of two people.”
However, Johnson said the deaths of young Black people at the hands of the police demanded urgent action. She accused white liberals of ignoring Black issues. She also told Raw Story that addressing Bernie Sanders is “super important.”
“Sanders is supposed to be as far left and progressive as you can possibly get and in Seattle’s political context? I know that really, really well, right? We have hordes and hordes of white liberals and white progressives and yet we still have all the same racial problems,” she said.
BLM activists have targeted other democratic and republican presidential candidates. They have tried to interrupt Hillary Clinton events, but have been thwarted by her tight Secret Service security. BLM activists also recently disrupted a Jeb Bush event in Las Vegas.