Bernie and Hillary Want to Know: Who Would Trayvon Martin Vote For?

In a sort of “Black Lives Matter endorsement primary,” Sanders and Clinton are both vying for endorsements from people best known for horrible tragedies.

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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.