On Bernie Sanders and taking anti-racism seriously

May 3rd, 2015

I’ve been lurking on threads where my recent blog post has been shared, noticing a number of Bernie defenders pointing to this quote in the transcript as if it undermines my thesis:

“But for too many years, too many… mostly black suspects, have been treated terribly and in some cases murdered. That is unacceptable. And police officers have got to be held accountable for their actions.” -Sen. Sanders

If this passes for radical politics in the American context, we’ve set our bar too low. Just holding police ‘accountable’ is a minimum demand. If we stop at holding police who murder people accountable, then we’ve left the vast majority of the New Jim Crow fully intact. If you haven’t read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” please do so- it explains better than I can how the problem in Baltimore, as in Ferguson and countless other cities and towns, is not simply a lack of accountability for police misconduct. The fact that Bernie felt compelled to emphasize the local/state nature of this issue and talk about how hard the job of being a cop is when talking about Baltimore indicates that Bernie really hasn’t given the issue enough thought.

The only reform Sanders mentions by name- and reiterates for emphasis- is Body Cameras. As Fusion’s December 2014 investigation makes clear however, this reform would do very little, if anything, to alter the murderous dynamic that led to the deaths of Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner and hundreds of lost lives beyond counting in just the last few years. Body cameras have, in effect, become a way for liberals to co-opt and channel the rage against police brutality without providing real solutions.

I’ve also seen people dismiss my post for being too purist, or idealist. “Bernie’s the best we can hope for,” they argue. Not true. If we actually think that #BlackLivesMatters has helped to lay bare an entire oppressive apparatus, and if we actually aspire to a politics of anti-racism, WE CAN DO BETTER than ducking the question. We can militate for reforms, candidates and movements that will actually get at the New Jim Crow in it’s totality. As I pointed out in my last post

If the hope with Sanders’ candidacy is to push Hillary Clinton to the left, it looks like we shouldn’t hold our collective breath.

When it comes to the politics of anti-racism, Bernie won’t be shifting anyone to the left, but he apparently will make numerous liberals think that fixing the economy alone will resolve the bulk of the dynamic in Baltimore. That is, we’ll have more comfortable liberals arguing that ‘the real problem in Baltimore is unemployment!’ While it IS a crucial component, as a stand-alone reform it’s just more color-blind liberalism in a deeply racist society.

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