No candidate is safe from interruption, suggests an activist who’s determined to make police and criminal justice reform the anchor of the 2016 presidential race.
The evolution of center-stage issues this year related to the Democratic primary election for mayor of Philadelphia foreshadowed what Americans can expect to see in upcoming months as campaigning for the presidency intensifies from both parties.
The mayor’s race here began with issues of school funding and choice, the economy and education reform taking the top conversation spots, only to be dethroned shortly thereafter for police and criminal justice reform, which seemed to own the stage and offer unsolicited encores.
Days before the election, commercials from the perceived front-runners focused almost exclusively on issues related to policing.
This phenomenon can be explained easily: activists and independent journalists took control of spaces and narratives once earmarked exclusively for the mainstream and forced upon the occupants the issues they deemed important, like repealing stop-and-frisk and releasing the names of police officers who shoot and kill citizens.
In addition, and more importantly, this phenomenon is not unique to Philadelphia, as proven this weekend when activists interrupted, and then took over, the Netroots Nation Conference, forcing two presidential candidates –Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley – to articulate, on the spot, their plan for mitigating racism and police violence in America, which, some would argue, is on the brink of a race war.
Neither candidate impressed the activists much, but Mr. O’Malley was a particular disappointment, as he, when responding to the chant “Black Lives Matter,” said “Black lives matter, White lives matters, all lives matter.”
“I was embarrassed for Mr. O’Malley,” said Mr. Asa Khalif, a prominent activist who divides his time between New York City and Philadelphia, the latter city which has seen more of him than the former, as he was arrested here, with others, back in March for interrupting a town hall meeting which led to a clash with Philadelphia police officers. “He sounded like a politician who’s out of touch and got shook up. We know that all lives matter, but we also know that White lives matter more. By saying ‘Black Lives Matter,’ you’re not dismissing anyone else’s life, but instead are reaffirming the value of Black life.”
Mr. Khalif, as expected, applauded the efforts of Ms. Tia Oso, the black woman who took to the stage to facilitate the direct action and then inquired of Mr. O’Malley his stance on criminal justice reform. He then suggested, very matter-of-factly, that the Black Lives Matter movement will own this presidential election.
“I’m encouraging people to do similar actions in their city,” said Mr. Khalif, who’s looking forward to making his presence known at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
No candidate will be safe from an interruption, implied Mr. Khalif, who said Hilary Clinton better take note and prepare herself.
“We’ll shout her down like anyone else,” he said, adding “we’ve proven we’re not afraid of being arrested.”
To prevent a stealth attack like the one in Phoenix, Mr. Khalif suggested the presidential candidates convene meetings with anti-police violence and anti-racism activists to gain a comprehensive understanding of the movement and its goals.
“If they’re smart, they’ll tap into those who are organizing in every city,” said Mr. Khalif, “They need to leave the cameras outside and bring their a**es inside to listen to us, because all we want is a seat at the table.”
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