Craig Lassig / Reuters

No 'free pass' for Democratic candidates, says Black Lives Matter founder

Patrisse Cullors says civil rights movement's aim is to 'push' Democrats to address issues of race in America

Since the start of the 2016 presidential campaign season, Black Lives Matter protests have been a regular feature of candidate rallies. Although the protesters have targeted contenders from both major parties, Democrats have faced the brunt of the disruptions. There’s a reason for that, Black Lives Matter founding member Patrisse Cullors told Al Jazeera.

“I think what’s important about challenging the Democrats is that for so many years, they’ve received a free pass in the black community,” Cullors said in an interview on Friday with Ali Velshi of "Third Rail." “And they’ve really milked our votes without giving many results."

Cullors — the person responsible for creating the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag — said activists are primarily targeting Democratic candidates because “we want to push them to become better advocates for the black community.” And she believes that strategy has been successful.

“We’ve seen Hillary Clinton come out with a criminal justice reform package. We’ve seen Bernie Sanders come out with a reform package,” said Cullors of the two Democratic candidates. “I mean, all of our tactics are pushing and pushing them to be much more honest about Black Lives Matter."

The most famous Black Lives Matter disruption of the campaign season occurred in July, when protesters affiliated with the civil rights movement successfully derailed a staged event featuring Democratic candidates Sanders and Martin O’Malley in Phoenix, Arizona. The following month, protesters tried to disrupt a Clinton appearance in New Hampshire but were barred entry; the campaign instead permitted them to meet with the candidate following the event.

Cullors was careful to emphasize that Republican candidates are “definitely not getting a pass.” Last month, a Black Lives Matter activist crashed a rally for GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, where he was subsequently assaulted by zealous Trump supporters. Trump later said that perhaps the protester deserved to be “roughed up."

The movement has largely targeted Democrats because the GOP is “too far gone,” said Cullors.

“We want to really challenge the party that’s supposed to be the, quote, ‘party that’s on our side,’” she said. “When, historically, they have not been."

The three Democratic candidates have each taken steps to appease Black Lives Matter activists, in addition to the policy proposals cited by Cullors. Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley all routinely utter the phrase “black lives matter” during their public appearances, and Sanders has recruited Symone Sanders — a young, black criminal justice reform activist — to serve as one of his spokespeople.

Despite the overtures from various candidates, other Black Lives Matter leaders have made clear that the movement — which, by its nature, is decentralized — will not endorse a candidate during this election cycle. 

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