This past Saturday, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders elicited mixed reactions on Twitter after telling a young black student he needed to “respect” police during his next run-in so that he doesn’t get “shot in the back of the head.”
Sanders was attending the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at HBCU Benedict College in South Carolina, which also drew fellow candidates Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden. The conference was aimed at building on the gains made from the bipartisan 2018 criminal reform bill, the First Step Act, and was “calling upon candidates,” to provide their proposal for the “second step.”
Although many felt Sanders appeared the most confident at the recent 2020 presidential debates, polls have been reporting a decline in his approval rating over the last couple of months. That may continue, if social media’s response to his police comment is any indication.
Sanders’s controversial answer came after a black college student in the audience asked, “If I’m your son, what advice would you give me next time I’m pulled over by a police officer?”
The 78-year old senator and Brooklyn native replied, “I would respect what they are doing so that you don’t get shot in the back of the head, but I would also be very mindful of the fact that as a nation, we have got to hold police officers accountable for the actions that they commit.” Sanders followed up by saying, “I would be very cautious if you were my son, in terms of dealing with that police officer, but I would also defend my rights and know my rights and make sure if possible that police officer’s camera is on what goes on.”
Sanders immediately received backlash on Twitter, as many recounted numerous unarmed black men and women who were killed while following his recommendations. Many of the critics called out his answer for “victim-blaming,” likening it to telling women how to dress to avoid getting raped. Others invoked cases of unarmed black men being killed by police.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is outchea LITERALLY telling black kids that treating cops “respectfully” will keep them from being shot in the head.— michaelharriot (@michaelharriot) October 27, 2019
Philando Castile would beg to differ.
Answering what advice he would give his son if pulled over by police, Bernie said he would “respect what they are doing so you don’t get shot in the back of the head”— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) October 27, 2019
Is that why unarmed Black people get shot? They’re not respecting police? Come on man.pic.twitter.com/KDmHMyVc0N
Trouble with that answer is it wouldn't necessarily stop that child from getting shot in the back of the head. We have the receipts to show. A long list.— Corrupt ParlorTricks (@CParlortricks) October 28, 2019
I reiterate, adding "so you don't get shot in the back of the head", is what made the statement wrong. Just like adding "so you don't get raped" would make advice on how to dress, wrong.— Amy Ann (@AmyAnn64) October 28, 2019
Just a few months ago, new research was released from the journal PNAS showing that “police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States.” It further explains that “about 1 in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police. Black women and men and American Indian and Alaska Native women and men are significantly more likely than white women and men to be killed by police, as are Latino men.”
Although the answer incited anger among Black Lives Matter activists, Sanders also received sharp criticism from the right wing as well, many of whom called him out for what they considered to be promoting distrust in law enforcement. “People like him make it hard for police to do their jobs!” one person tweeted, while others called the comments “irresponsible” and “inflammatory.”
Bernie Sanders tells student to respect police officer “so that you don’t get shot in the back of the head” what an irresponsible, inflammatory asinine comment. @BernieSanders needs to apologize for comment.@realDonaldTrump https://t.co/bg9CMWVSZc— Gator (@4Bravo69) October 28, 2019
Not everyone disagreed with Sanders, however. As many negative comments swirled, some came out in support of his comments on social media. “Bluntly honest and exactly the kind of talk we need,” one person tweeted. “As a mother of 4 Black children & now a grandmother of 5, his answer is acceptable,” wrote another. “It’s what I was told and what I would advise my offspring. Comply to live another day. The burden shouldn’t be on us, it’s the corrupt system, but until we change things, this is all we can do.”
Actually, it is. Bluntly honest and exactly the kind of talk we need. What’s going on is so beyond disgusting.— Single Payer or Bust🌹 (@stephlynn1982) October 27, 2019
I got the same talk from my dad as a teenager. Keep your hands visible, comply with commands, Don't assume they are "good cops" because they won't give me the benefit of the doubt.— ruben arroyo (@DoctorResidWho) October 27, 2019
As a mother of 4 Black children & now a grandmother of 5, his answer is acceptable. It’s what I was told and what I would advise my offspring. Comply to live another day. The burden shouldn’t be on us, it’s the corrupt system, but until we change things, this is all we can do— Collette Gee (@FindingHappily) October 27, 2019
Towards the end of the summit, the same question — this time, asked by a black woman — was lodged at Biden. In an answer that also sparked heated dialogue, the former vice president answered: “If you were my daughter, you’d be a caucasian girl and you wouldn’t be pulled over. That’s the problem!”
Institutional racism should no longer exist. As president, I'll put forward change to help put an end to it. pic.twitter.com/DQtPzGIfNq— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 27, 2019
At the time of publishing, Senator Sanders had not responded to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.
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