Bernie Sanders tells black college student to 'respect' police – and social media has mixed feelings

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders in Washington, DC on Oct. 28, 2019. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

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.”

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.”

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!”

At the time of publishing, Senator Sanders had not responded to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.

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