Los Angeles-Angelenos got to “feel the Bern” when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders showed up and spoke at a social justice rally in downtown Los Angeles the first weekend in June. The “Bern” was on fire as he talked during the Real Justice event about some of the prevailing ails confronting America.
Preaching on subjects like the war on drugs, the double-standard of race in the criminal justice system, the issue of bail and incarceration and pushing social responsibility, Sanders was in prime attack mode.
“When we talk about the war on drugs and its destruction all across this country, let us be very aware that the war on drugs has been especially horrific to the African American community,” Sanders said. “Turns out that whites and blacks use marijuana at about equal levels, but blacks are almost four times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession.”
Sanders have built his career on being the outsider with the nerve to try to shake up the political landscape across the country. He’s bold, daring, unafraid and unapologetic in talking about social issues that other people avoid. Controversy is not something that Sanders shies away from when he talks about the difference in how low-level offenders are treated in the criminal justice system compared to how the rich are dealt with.
“Today, we don’t have liberty and justice for all,” Sanders said. “We have one system of justice for the crooks on Wall Street, whose greed and illegal behavior almost destroyed our entire economy and resulted in millions of people losing their jobs and their homes and their life’s savings. Somebody correct me here, but I don’t recall that one of those crooks went to jail. But then we have a different system for a kid who smokes marijuana or another kid who steals a pair of sneakers. We have one system of justice if you are white and another system of justice if you are black or brown or Native American.”
Racial justice, an improvement on what constitutes to be a living wage, healthcare, affordable housing, and women’s rights are just some of the issues Sanders has been willing to take on and add to his political platform. He did that pretty well in the 2016 Presidential Election when he went toe-to-toe with eventual Democratic Party nominee Hilary Clinton and narrowly lost out on being that party’s representative against Donald Trump.
Despite losing out to Clinton, Sanders’ mission of talking about mass incarceration, funding for free college education, and police reform, among other topics, Sanders effectively snatched the young people’s vote from Clinton.
His supporters rocked the Democratic National Convention and nearly drove the Democratic Party into splinters. The Democratic Party took a divisive hit when Sanders opposed Clinton for the people’s choice. Well, Sanders is stirring up trouble again.
He is not alone in this fight because the social justice organization Black Lives Matter has his back. Sanders joined Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and Real Justice co-founder Shaun King at the Million Dollar Theater to discuss what many perceive to be a tattered criminal justice system and ways to fix it.
Besides Sanders, Cullors and King, other speakers included Dr. Melina Abdullah from Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, activist Jasmyne Cannick and Jayda Rasperry of Dignity and Power Now.
The message was the same across the board: reform jails, see more implementation of police reform, get mentally challenged individuals from behind bars of a jail cell and into alternative sentencing programs, and erase the biasing in the criminal justice system.
“Change can’t be made the same way you make peanut butter and jelly,” Abdullah said. “That is not how change that is meaningful comes. Meaningful change comes because we struggle. Meaningful change means putting our bodies on the line and sacrificing something. That is what struggle is about. Think about momma Harriet Tubman. She sacrificed something. Yes? Think about what Brother Malcolm (X) sacrificed. Think about what all of our political prisoners-with us and not with us-sacrificed. Right? So, if we’re talking about a change that’s meaningful we must understand the gravity of what we face right now and be willing to put it on the line to change things.”
Cannick, leading the charge in the Reform L.A. County Jails campaign, highlighted the mysterious disappearance and ultimate death of Mitrice Richardson, a young black woman who came up missing after being released by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies following her arrest at a Malibu-based eatery. Richardson came up missing in 2009. Her remains were found in 2010. In 2011, Richardson’s family reached a civil agreement with the sheriff’s department for a reported $900,000.
“Reform L.A. Jails is about that there are no more Mitrice Richardsons and there no more suicides in our jails,” said Cannick. “Eight years ago, when they found her naked body in a Malibu ravine dead, there was no independent oversight of the (Los Angeles) Sheriff’s Department…There were no answers, there was not an explanation or even the acceptance of responsibility of her senseless and preventable death. Nearly ten years later, we still don’t know what happened to Mitrice other than she was arrested for something that today most police officers wouldn’t even bother with.”
While Abdullah, Cannick and others spoke inside the theater, Sanders was speaking to an energized audience out front. Once inside the theater, Sanders went through his list of issues he was willing to talk about. There was no surprise announcement about a potential 2020 presidential run.
The only thing that Sanders wanted to engage in was for the American people to step up their awareness around the social issues he’s been speaking on for years.
“You know, and I know, everybody here knows that real change never takes place from the top on down…It is millions of people standing up and demanding change, and that’s what we’re doing here today,” Sanders said.
Sanders praised the efforts of Cullors and her work through Black Lives Matter, Cannick, King, and Rasperry for being on the frontlines in the battle to bring attention to reform of the criminal justice system.
“As a result of their efforts, we are succeeding, all over this country, we are beginning, just beginning, to see the American people stand up and make it clear that it makes no sense at all that we have two million people in jail today, more than communist China,” Sanders said. “And it makes no sense at all that those numbers are disproportionately African American, Latino, and Native American.”
The elephant in the room was the discussion about curbing police brutality and engineering more police reform efforts. Sanders didn’t mince words in discussing this issue.
“When we talk about criminal justice reform that discussion must include police department reform,” said Sanders. “All of us want to live in safe communities. We want to keep dangerous people off of the street. But what we want are police officers who are well-trained, who are professionals, who are part of the community. And we do not want to continue to see those horrible videos of people being shot in the back or being murdered by police officers. That is unacceptable and police officers who do that must be held accountable.”