Demonstrators protesting cases of police brutality and the treatment of black Americans by law enforcement disrupted a presidential forum on Saturday as Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley was interviewed on stage. The group later heckled Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In a raucous scene at the annual Netroots Nation convention, a large group of protesters streamed into the convention hall chanting, “Black lives matter!” as O’Malley was interviewed by Jose Antonio Vargas. One of the group’s leaders took over the stage and addressed the audience as the largely female group of demonstrators railed against police-involved shootings, the treatment of immigrants and Arizona’s racial history.
The demonstrators were promoting the national “Black Lives Matter” movement, which seeks changes to law enforcement policies following several high profile deaths of black men at the hands of police.
Sanders and O’Malley are vying to become the Democratic alternative to front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was campaigning in Iowa and Arkansas on Saturday and did not attend Netroots.
Before the demonstrations, Vargas pressed O’Malley to defend his law enforcement record as Baltimore’s mayor a decade ago. O’Malley faced scrutiny when unrest broke out in his home city after an African-American man, Freddie Gray, died while in police custody in April.
O’Malley discussed his work to deal with violence and drug addiction in Baltimore, telling the crowd, “there are very few issues in our country that are quite as painfully intertwined as the legacy of violence, race and law enforcement in America.” He said his policies improved policing, reduced the number of police-involved shootings and increased drug treatment.
About 20 minutes into the interview, demonstrators walked into the cavernous ballroom, creating a confusing scene. Tia Oso, National Coordinator for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in Phoenix, took the stage and addressed the crowd, noting two years had passed since the the Black Lives Matter movement started after Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Days of protests that sometimes turned violent in the St. Louis suburb followed.
“We want to take a moment at Netroots to acknowledge the lives lost,” Oso said. Organizers sought to restore order and at one point, Cheryl Contee, a Netroots Nation board member, took the stage and asked the audience to allow O’Malley to respond.
O’Malley said all Americans have a responsibility to “recognize the pain and the grief throughout our country, through all the lives that have been lost to violence.” He reiterated that every police department should be required to report all police-involved shootings and create civilian review boards.
“Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter,” O’Malley told the crowd, as some protesters heckled him.
Sanders, during his abbreviated 20 minute appearance, spoke about the need to address wealth and income inequality, noting that blacks and Hispanics face high rates of unemployment.
His remarks were interrupted at times by the protesters, prompting Sanders to respond, “Black lives of course matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights.”
Sanders called the criminal justice system “out of control” and described high rates of unemployment and incarceration for young black Americans.
The Netroots Nation convention has been a rough place for presidential candidates before. Clinton last appeared in 2007, when it was called the Yearly Kos, and heard boos from some activists who disapproved of her vote for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and her acceptance of campaign contributions from lobbyists.
Source: The AP