Black Lives Matter founder Patriss Cullors lead a protest at Netroots Nation in Phoenix, Arizona, effectively shutting down the speeches of presidential hopefuls former Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders,MSNBC.com reports.
“It’s not like we like shutting sh*t down, but we have to,” Cullors said. “We are tired of being interrupted.”
With shouts of “Black lives matter!” and “Say her name!” two hashtags that have been used to raise awareness about state-sanctioned violence against Black people in the United States, protesters refused to be silenced even as O’Malley and Sanders tried to stick to their talking points.
Both candidates – former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – struggled to appease the angry protesters while sticking to their talking points and both ultimately failed to capitalize on the unexpected interruption, which comes amid a national conversation on racial tensions and police brutality. Just last week, a black woman named Sandra Bland died in police custody after being arrested for a traffic violation in Texas. Meanwhile, Friday marked the first anniversary of Eric Garner’s chokehold death at the hands of NYPD officers in Staten Island.
“Every single day folks are dying. Not being able to take another breath. We are in a state of emergency,” Cullors continued, hoarse from chanting. “If you don’t feel that emergency, you are not human.”
After much chanting – and pleas from event organizers to give O’Malley a chance to respond to their questions – the former Maryland governor began to speak about criminal justice reform, promising a detailed policy proposal soon and saying he supported forcing police districts to report brutality complaints. Protesters interrupted him, chanting, “Black lives matter!”
“I know, I know … Let me talk a little bit … Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter,” O’Malley answered earning boos and shouts from the protesters and gasps from the rest of the audience.
He left the stage shortly thereafter.
Sanders – who was widely expected to be the favorite candidate this weekend – took the stage to chants from protesters, who made it clear they wanted answers from him as well.
“Black lives of course matter but I have spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and if you don’t want me to be here, that’s OK,” Sanders said with visible exasperation. “I will answer your question, but I’d like to speak for a couple of minutes, I was told …”
Sanders left the stage, abbreviating his appearance significantly. Netroots Nation released a statement in solidarity with the protesters:
“Although we wish the candidates had more time to respond to the issues, what happened today is reflective of an urgent moment America is facing today,” the group said in a statement, highlighting next year’s conference location – St. Louis – which aims to put a direct focus on race issues in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting death at the hands of police nearby in Ferguson, Missouri.
Moderator Jose Vargas refused to silence the protesters, later tweeting:
“To folks who ask me why I didn’t stop protestors: We cannot silence people of color and women of color”
In an interview http://daviddayen.tumblr.com/post/124440944821/interview-with-ashley-yeats-black-lives-matter ) with journalist David Dayen, protest organizer Ashley Yeats echoed those same ideas. When asked how a candidate can bridge the divide between racial and economic justice when speaking to the progressive community, she said:
“When you talk about economic justice, who’s the poorest of the poor? Talk about gentrification, talk about mass displacement. Talk about the things that actually lead to poverty. Who is affected by that? Talk about whose neighborhoods are flooded with really harmful drugs. Talk about who’s denied access to resources. Talk about who [isn’t]? that is all in black and brown neighborhoods. So if you’re doing economic justice but you’re not talking to black and brown people, you’re not actually doing economic justice. So that’s the challenge I pose and that’s how you bridge the gap, get people to realize that if you’re talking about economic issues, black people are part of every category.”