Excerpted from The Hill: Black lawmakers on Capitol Hill are defending the young activists using confrontation to press top Democratic presidential candidates to tackle the nation’s protracted problems of racial injustice.
In recent weeks, members of the Black Lives Matter movement have gone after the leading Democratic hopefuls — most notably during a viral weekend encounter with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — urging them to prioritize criminal justice reform and other race-related issues on the campaign trail.
The activists have employed the controversial tactic of interrupting stump speeches and other public forums, which has drawn ire from many Democrats as an uncivil and misguided effort that targets allies, rather than opponents, of such reforms.
But a number of black Democrats disagree, arguing that race-based problems have been neglected for too long, even by liberal policymakers, and the activists have tapped into a vein of frustration that justifies their methods.
“They really are speaking to the issues, and we’re really long overdue responding to those issues,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said in a phone interview. “They’ve been pointed, nonviolent and strong, and I’m not offended.
“They’re asking for nothing more than to lift up a system to treat them with justice.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) echoed that message, alluding to recent high-profile cases of young unarmed blacks killed by police officers as proof that America’s racial problems persist and demand a specific response from the presidential candidates — liberal and conservative alike. The public debate that’s followed the recent protests, he suggested, merits their controversial tactics.
“For Black Lives Matter activists, the issue is literally a matter of life and death as evidenced by the continued killing of unarmed Black men and women by police officers across the nation,” Johnson said in an email. “When presidential candidates fail to acknowledge how the current criminal system detrimentally impacts Black lives, they [the activists] resort to disruptive tactics to force attention to the issue.
“While disruption is uncomfortable, it does result in candidates acknowledging and addressing the issue with policy proposals,” he added. “When that happens, the need to protest is abated.” Keep reading
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