A sleeping infant gets herself killed by a SWAT bullet. A handcuffed man breaks his own neck in the back of a police van after being arrested for making eye contact with a police officer. A career woman with a bright future is found dead in her cell after a traffic stop. African Americans seem to have an uncanny ability to magically terminate themselves when police are nearby. And, yet no major politician at the Democratic National Convention really talked about it.
The theme of DNC 2016 was unity and American exceptionalism. This was, no doubt, a deliberate strategy to contrast Hillary Clinton’s platform with Donald Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again”. The Democratic Party has been earnestly trying for decades to re-brand itself as the civil rights party, with mixed results. So, it was a natural, albeit tactical response to have speakers of all backgrounds to express solidarity against discrimination at the convention.
And, so, sentiments of categorial solidarity for immigrants, LGBTQ, the Muslim, veterans, the disabled came frequently throughout the week. Each of these political flashpoints were linked to Donald Trump’s antics and quotes. The message was a clear callout: when Trump comes for one of these Americans, he comes for all in the Party.
In many voting districts across the country, progressives count on the black vote. At #DNC2016, African Americans shone in their efforts to showcase the party’s inclusiveness. Morgan Freeman narrated Hillary Clinton’s highlight reel. President Obama, his wife, Michelle, Senator Cory Booker, and other high profile African Americans delivered the most rousing and iconic speeches of the convention. Yet, ironically, none of these speakers made any statements (except for activist, Rev. William Barber II) that gave ample weight to mass incarceration or police brutality.
Donald Trump’s record of racism, which includes specific transgressions and comments towards African Americans, stretches over nearly 40 years. His open support for unjust law enforcement practices is documented. Arguably, the GOP slogan to “make America great again” is a thinly veiled nostalgia for a time when African Americans had even less civil rights than they do now. The Democratic Party, therefore, avoided a prime opportunity to reframe the dialogue around the #BlackLivesMatter agenda as an important civil liberties issue for the entire nation. Instead, DNC speeches continued to perpetuate the false dichotomy of police lives versus movement.
Bernie and Hillary essentially glazed over the subject that was a dealbreaker for many Black millennials. Both of the presidential hopefuls were careful, like all the other major speakers of convention, to first center reverence for police officers, before briefly offering a watered down sentence or two on the movement, without mentioning its name. Hillary spoke about the Dallas tragedy but did not mention the movement in her nomination acceptance.
To be fair, the “Mothers of the Movement’ were given stage time at the convention to appeal for justice and reform. These women repeatedly said that Hillary was not afraid to say “Black Lives Matter” or speak the name of their children. In fact, Clinton did go full throttle on the issue earlier this month in front of the NAACP. So why did she hold back at the convention?
As the hashtag says, the root cause of police brutality and mass incarceration is our society’s low value of black lives. If every powerful ally of the cause is too scared to say this openly and unequivocally for fear of alienating police unions and their unquestioning supporters, it seems inconceivable that the stream of stories like #TamirRice, #RekiaBoyd, and #EricGarner will ever end.
While the convention was going on, two things happened. The first: a federal judge granted the release of John Hinckley, Jr., the man who shot former President Ronald Reagan, a Secret Service agent, a police officer, and the White House press secretary (who later died from his injuries). One could argue that after 35 years years, Hinckley paid his debt to society. The remarkable thing here is he lived to do so, despite the gravity and violence of the crime he committed.
Oh, and the other thing? Hilary wasn’t the only woman who made history in Philly. For the first time ever, three African-American women were leading a major U.S. political party.