Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ advice to an African-American student regarding interactions with police has some people shaking their heads, while others have rushed to his defense.
The Democratic hopeful was speaking at the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum in Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday when he told a student he should “respect” the police to avoid being shot and killed.
The Vermont independent’s comment was in response to a question from the young man, who asked: “If I was your son, what advice would you give the next time I would be pulled over by a police officer?” according to social media video.
The forum, hosted at the historically Black Benedict College, is billed as a bipartisan effort discussing criminal justice reform. President Donald Trump kicked off the forum last Friday by giving a speech for which most of the college’s students weren’t present and were instead told to remain in their dorms.
Sanders, 78, initially seemed stumped by the question on how to conduct oneself during a traffic stop.
“I would do my best to identify who that police officer is in a polite way, ask him or her for their name,” he began. “I would respect what they are doing so that you don’t get shot in the back of the head.”
Expounding on his answer, the presidential candidate said he would “also be very mindful of the fact that, as a nation, we’ve got to hold police officers accountable for the actions that they commit.”
“To answer your question, I would be very cautious if you were my son in terms of dealing with that police officer, but I would also defend my rights and know my rights and make sure if possible that police officer’s [body] camera is on,” Sanders concluded.
CBS reporter LaCrai Mitchell, who covered the event, said the senator’s response didn’t garner much applause or audience approval. It was the same on social media, where critics ripped the self-described Democratic socialist over.
“BERNIE SANDERS DOES NOT UNDERSTAND RACE IN AMERICA. AT. ALL,” Davis Dennis Jr., a Morehouse College adjunct professor of English and journalism, tweeted.
“Bernie Sanders shifts police murders of black men to the victims of police shootings of black men. ‘Be respectful so you don’t get shot in the back of the head,'” another user chimed in, adding, “Can we be done with this man now?”
One user saw things differently, saying Sanders’ response was much like the advice his parents had given him.
“Some people think I should be mad at @BernieSanders for saying what my Black grandpop & father would always tell me!,” he wrote. “If you get pulled over by police, they’re looking for excuses to kill you, so do best you can not to give them one & live to fight another day!”
A fellow user agreed, writing: “Bernie‘s answer was what every black parent has told their children in so many words.”
The same question was later asked to former VP and president candidate Joe Biden by a Black female student.
The Democratic front-runner chuckled, then said: “If you were my daughter, you’d be a Caucasian girl and you wouldn’t be pulled over. That’s what’s wrong.”
Biden later tweeted a video clip of his response, adding: “Institutional racism should no longer exist. As president, I’ll put forward change to help put an end to it.”
Watch more in the video below.
Sen. Bernie Sanders advised a black student at a justice forum that, if he's pulled over by a police officer, he should be "polite" so that "you don't get shot in the back of the head" https://t.co/fek2rAZ4KP pic.twitter.com/3n8ZNFkDe3
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 27, 2019