Sep 13, 2015
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders this weekend brought his populist message to South Carolina where, addressing crowds of black and white voters, he spoke forcefully about criminal justice reform, police brutality, and systemic inequity.
And along for the ride on his four-day Southern sweep was Sanders' friend and champion, black academic Dr. Cornel West, who introduced the Vermont Senator as "a brother of integrity and honesty and decency."
"Dear brother Bernie Sanders, he is not just on the move, he is going to win," West told the crowd of 1,000 Saturday morning at Benedict College, a historically black college located in Columbia. Last month, the Princeton University professor emeritus officially endorsed Sanders for president.
In addition to discussing his populist touchstones--income inequality, breaking up the banks, campaign finance reform, healthcare for all--Sanders also lingered on issues of racism and racial inequality.
"When I talk about racism ... I am talking about Sandra Bland," Sanders said, referencing the Chicago woman who was found hanged in a Texas police cell after being arrested for a minor traffic violation.
Sanders ticked off several other names -- Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, "and too many others who died at the hands of police officers, or in police custody," he said as the audience rose to its feet.
"If anybody thinks that this phenomenon ... is something new, you are very, very mistaken," Sanders continued, wiping his brow. "It has gone on for a very, very long time."
"Like any other public official, if a police officer breaks the law, that police officer must be held accountable," he added, to another standing ovation.
At one point, Sanders' warned the young crowd, "I'm going to bore you with facts; I'm not great at jokes. Alright? So let's get some truth out there."
He went on to cite a statistic that in 2009, 69 percent of black male high school dropouts ended up in jail, which he said is up from 15 percent in 1979. "Now it seems to me, given that reality, that tragic reality, it makes a lot more sense for us just to invest in jobs and education rather than jails and incarceration," he said.
The presidential hopeful also touted a sweeping criminal justice reform bill which he is expected to introduce to Congress next week. The legislation would increase oversight for privately-run prisons and end contracts for for-profit prisons within two years, reinstate the federal parole system, and end the mandatory quota of immigrants detained.
"Racism remains alive today, and our goal together must be to end all forms of institutional racism and make major reforms in our criminal justice system," he concluded.
As for West, aides for the candidate believe he will provide a helpful bridge between Sanders' economic message and the racial justice movement, which has focused on police and systemic brutality against people of color.
"He's a forceful voice for understanding the intersection of racial justice and economic justice. He understands very well Bernie's message. He provides validation to many people that the agenda Bernie is putting forward is an agenda that would benefit people in the African American community and beyond," said Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver.
The college visit came ahead of two other South Carolina stops in Florence and Rock Hill later Saturday. The four-day Southern swing also included a low-dollar fundraiser Friday night in Atlanta, as well as a rally in Greensboro, N.C. Sunday evening, and multiple stops Monday in Virginia, including a convocation speech to students at Liberty University, the conservative Christian school founded by evangelist Jerry Falwell, the Washington Postreports.
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