Bernie Sanders Abandons Speech After Black Lives Matter Protest

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Sen. Bernie Sanders Holds Town Hall And Rally In Phoenix, Arizona
Photo: Charlie Leight/2015 Getty Images

Bernie Sanders was slated to give a speech at an event in a Seattle city park Saturday celebrating the anniversary of Social Security and Medicare. But, moments after he took the stage, a coterie of protesters from a Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter usurped the Vermont senator, taking the mike. They asked the crowd to hold a moment of silence to commemorate the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri.

Subsequently, Marissa Janae Johnson, who identified herself as a leader of the local Black Lives Matter chapter, asked the crowd to “join [them] now in holding Bernie Sanders accountable for his actions,” the Washington Post reports. The group maintains that Sanders has not yet shown that he’d adequately address police brutality or structural racism should he win the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sanders left the stage after several minutes. He later told reporters that he found the incident “unfortunate.” Last month, he called for the “demilitarization” of the police forces and an end to privately run prisons. More recently, a section on racial justice was added to his platform online.

At another event Saturday evening, to which 15,000 people showed up, Sanders addressed the earlier episode: ” … On criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.” He went on, “Too many lives have been destroyed by the war on drugs. Too many lives have been destroyed by incarceration.”

The incident sparked discussion about the tactics of Black Lives Matter, with some commentators questioning the efficacy of focusing on Sanders (as opposed to, say, Hillary Clinton or Republican candidates), and others arguing that criticizing tactics is a way of taking the focus off the movement’s fundamental goals