MINNEAPOLIS — Bernie Sanders faced a frustrated and at times tough crowd at a race and economics forum here Friday night.
Sanders spoke to the predominately African-American crowd, addressing issues such as the incarceration rates of whites versus African-Americans due to marijuana use. He also talked about nationwide police reforms.
After delivering a stump speech for about 15 minutes, Sanders answered questions on racial inequality, economic disparities and small business growth, and environmental issues affecting Minneapolis.
The audience cheered and clapped for Sanders at times during his stump speech, and were as vocal during the question and answer session, yelling out “How?” at several points as the senator spoke.
A particularly tense moment arose when a questioner found Sanders’ answer on government accountability in low-income communities like Flint, Michigan, unsatisfactory, accusing him of being afraid of saying “black” and asked him to go into more detail about reparations for African-Americans in the country.
“I know you’re scared to say black, I know you’re scared to say reparation” a woman said. “But it seems like every time we try to talk about black people and us getting something for the systematic reparations and the exploitation of our people we have to include every other person of color … can you please talk about specifically black people and reparations?”
Sanders pushed back in his response, defending his viewpoint that the issue is national and spans across poor communities.
“What I just indicated in my view is that when you have … you and I may have disagreements because it’s not just black, it is Latino, there are areas of America, in poor rural areas, where it’s white.”
During his response he was interrupted by an audience member who yelled, “Say black!” to which the senator said, “I’ve said black 50 times. That’s the 51st time.”
Sanders offered this solution to the original question: invest most in those communities most in need.
“When you have 35% of black children living in poverty, when you have half the kids in the country, in public schools on free and reduced lunches, when youth unemployment in African-American communities is 51%, those are exactly the kinds of communities that you invest in.”
Audience member Jason Sole stood up and declared that he was “feeling the Bern” but added that because he was formerly incarcerated, he couldn’t cast a ballot in the Minnesota primary.
Sanders said he disagreed with the notion that convicted felons shouldn’t be allowed to vote.
“What criminal justice is supposed to be about is you do the crime, you are found guilty, you pay the price. I’m not aware that paying the price includes taking away your rights to vote in a Democratic society. You paid the price right? You’re a citizen of the United States, correct? You have the right to vote.”
Sanders told the audience not to be naïve, underscoring what he sees as an underlying political motive.
“You have large numbers of African-American men and women not being able to vote. Somebody benefits from that.”
The forum finished inconclusively when activist Clyde Bellecourt commandeered the microphone to talk about issues relating to Native Americans being what he called “completely forgotten” by the federal government.
His statement drew on for several heated and emotional minutes as moderators asked him to get to his question and Bellecourt declared, “If you have to carry me out of here, carry me out of here!”
Sanders rose from his chair, thanked the crowd and scurried offstage.