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Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson to run for Baltimore mayor

Candidacy criticized by BLM chapter co-founder, who says movement should stand apart from political establishment

Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson has announced that he will run for mayor of Baltimore, his hometown, a decision that has angered critics who accuse him of being too cozy with the political establishment.

One of those critics is Marissa Jenae Johnson, co-founder of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM), a civil rights movement that came to prominence during protests in the aftermath of the police killing of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in the summer of 2014.

“McKesson’s entry into political office does not signal the success of BLM, but the deep desire and motivation of the state to suppress it,” Johnson told Al Jazeera.

“McKesson is surely only the first of many within BLM who will go on to seek government positions. It is not his candidacy that is detrimental to the movement, but the extent to which people believe it to be an act of progress, rather than an act of co-optation and repression, that is of issue,” Johnson said.

McKesson had not replied to Al Jazeera’s request for comment by the time of publication.

McKesson, a Baltimore native, wrote in a post on Medium.com — in which he announced that he had filed paperwork to run in the Democratic primary — that his background as an activist makes him different from other candidates running for mayor. The Democratic primary will be held on April 26, and McKesson is one of more than 20 candidates in the race.

“It is true that I am a non-traditional candidate … I’m running to be the 50th mayor of Baltimore in order to usher our city into an era where the government is accountable to its people and is aggressively innovative in how it identifies and solves its problems,” McKesson wrote.

McKesson, a former public school administrator in Baltimore and Minneapolis, has said that within a week he would release his platform, which would include school reforms as well as police and justice system reforms, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Following his role in protests against police brutality in Ferguson and Baltimore, McKesson gained a following of around 300,000 people on Twitter, and he has met with top White House officials to discuss civil rights issues. McKesson is also part of Campaign Zero, a movement aimed at reducing violence involving police.

Johnson and Mara Jacqueline Willaford, also a co-founder of Seattle’s BLM chapter, drew widespread media attention last year when they disrupted an event by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. They faced criticism that they were alienating Sanders, a progressive who has since strongly defended the movement.

The two women defended their actions. “Going after Sanders is super, super important because he’s supposed to be as far left and progressive as we can possible get. We have scores and scores of white liberal progressives and yet we still have the same racial problems,” Johnson told Al Jazeera in August.

The founders of BLM's national movement — Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors — said they did not disapprove of the Sanders disruption, and would “continue to hold politicians and political parties accountable for their policies and platforms.”

The group has declined to endorse any candidate in the 2016 presidential race.

Elbert Walton, a 73-year old St. Louis man who took part in civil rights actions decades ago, told The New York Times that McKesson’s announcement showed he understands that the government is a problem, and that they had “to take control of the government” in order to make real change.

Others support’s McKesson’s campaign as well. A Crowdpac.com fundraiser page for his run has already raised nearly $40,000.

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