For the second time this year, democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was interrupted during a speech by Black Lives Matter activists demanding answers to questions about race relations that the Vermont Senator has been avoiding.
Sanders is running for president under the progressive platform and has mentioned support of grass roots movements, criminal justice system reform and the fight against racism, yet he has still failed to successfully connect with Black voters.
Last weekend Sanders was set to speak during a political rally in Seattle and his speech was shut down by protestors who called Seattle out for being a racist city despite its “progressive” residents and called upon Sanders to specifically address his criminal justice reform package and how he plans to deal with race relations if elected.
"I am disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands at which I was invited to speak about fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare," Sanders said in a statement released to NBC affiliate KING 5.
"I was especially disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism, there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me."
A similar incident occurred in July during the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix when a group of Black women interrupted Sanders' and Martin O’Malley's speeches and challenged the candidates to recognize the true meaning of being progressive, which includes making racial justice issues a priority.
Sanders has not been making an effective effort to reach out to the Black community, many Black voters are unfamiliar with him altogether – due, in part, to the fact that he is a senator for the second whitest state in America, Vermont.
It’s imperative that Sanders works toward obtaining Black supporters because on average, approximately 85% of Black voters support the democratic candidate in presidential elections. If he is nominated as the party's candidate he's going to need those votes.
In many of Sanders speeches he touches on some of the problems negatively affecting minority communities such as the incarceration system, the war on drugs and the need for better education systems, but he hasn’t explicitly addressed the deeper, more immediate issues affecting them including immigration, racial inequality and police brutality.
Black voters proved just how strong their voices are in the 2008 and 2012 elections. Granted, the first African American to be nominated by a major party was on the ballot those years, but if Black Americans put just as much faith into someone they believe is a suitable successor they could once again greatly impact the outcome of the next election.
Sanders is doing himself a great disservice by ignoring the values of this influential group, particularly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and racial tensions flaring throughout the country.
Sanders often refers back to his days as a young radical when he participated in the Civil Rights movement trying to desegregate schools in Chicago where he attended college.
He has also said he has “spent his whole life fighting against racism,” but that seems to be a bit of an exaggeration considering his current disconnect with the Black community.
Although the Civil Rights movement is relevant to race issues of today and remains one of the most important movements in history, Sanders must understand this is a different era and as a 73-year-old Vermont resident, you can’t expect for the efforts you made 50 years ago to carry you through this election.
You may have been an ally to the Black community back then, but it’s time for you to reconnect with minority voices of this generation ... and you can start by directly acknowledging the concerns of Black Lives Matter activists in addition to presenting a criminal justice reform package.