Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, stands to the left of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton on some issues. But many wonder whether he, after serving a state with few minorities, truly understands the concerns of African Americans.
With the 2016 presidential election season under way, The Root is focusing on leading candidates of both parties in our Meet the Candidates series, running this week. In it we’re taking a look at their positions on a number of issues of concern for the African-American community.
Black Lives Matter
Over the summer, the NAACP launched its first chapter in Vermont—one of the whitest states in America. An Associated Press report on the first meeting noted that only about 20 of the 80 attendees were black, underscoring the state’s liberal leaning.
Despite Vermont’s progressive reputation, Black Lives Matter representatives question whether Sanders, one of the state’s two senators (the other is Democrat Patrick Leahy), could understand their concerns. Sanders, a native New Yorker, met with them in September to start a dialogue.
Johnetta Elzie, one of the activists at the meeting, said, “I made it very clear that he has not won over a large demographic of black people in this country, no matter how progressive he seems, and that his policy platform, that his past history of dealing with black people from his place of power in [Vermont], is also a concern in our community.”
In a statement to the Huffington Post, Sanders assured the movement that he gets it. “I look forward to a continuing dialogue with Campaign Zero and other voices from communities of color to address deeply entrenched racial and economic problems in our country,” he said.
Sanders’ campaign website lays out his criminal-justice policy positions in a sweeping racial-justice category that touches on several “central types of violence” against people of color.
Addressing physical violence against people of color is at the top of his list. Sanders calls for the demilitarization of police departments, community policing and aggressive prosecution of cops who break the law.
He also calls for an end to legal violence against minorities. His reforms would include eliminating mandatory minimums in the “failed war on drugs,” which results in sentencing disparities. He also calls for an end to the privatized prison system because it creates incentives for over-incarceration.
If elected, the candidate would also address what he describes as political violence that continues to disenfranchise minorities. He calls on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provision, which provided federal oversight of state election laws. The erosion of that oversight has enabled states to impose voter-ID laws and other restrictive practices that Sanders says are tantamount to the old literacy laws in Southern states.
When it comes to addressing economic disparities, it’s no surprise that Sanders fully backs the Fight for $15, in which low-wage workers are demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage.