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Bernie vs. Hillary: Who’s better for Black Voters?

newbernieBernie vs. Hillary: Who’s better for Black Voters?

Is it both? Neither? Super Tuesday is giving Black voters a tough choice.

 Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders shake hands at the start of their MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate at the University of New Hampshire on February 4, 2016 in Durham, N.H. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

By Lauren Victoria Burke

So which one will it be, folks? If you’re voting on the Democratic side are you going for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Who really has the interests of the Black electorate at heart? A lot is at stake when in 2016, 31 percent of the eligible voters will either be Black or Hispanic.

The furious competition to win Black voters on the Democratic side is giving us something we haven’t seen in over 50 years — a real fight for the Black vote by talking about issues that pertain to African Americans while individuals and activists call out the candidates. The contrast from 2008 would give you whiplash. Then-Sen. Barack Obama was devoted to a colorless campaign that avoided specific talk of race and policy prescriptions.

Now we have activists unloading on Sanders for not being race specific enough on the income inequality issue and complaints towards both candidates about too much focus on justice reform.

Race neutral policy dodging is over. What ended it was an endless stream of police misconduct on video, followed by the activist work of the Black Lives Matter movement. Combine that with 7.7 percent of African American (580,000) behind bars, the highest unemployment rates for Blacks since the 1980s, 38 percent of Black children in poverty, Black households with only 6 percent of the wealth of white ones and a 1.7 percent SBA loan rate for Black business and race neutral talk is over.

It’s time to get serious: Who is better for Black voters?

Let’s take a closer look at both candidates, starting with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton has a specific funding plan for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Sanders does not. Clinton’s first major address of her campaign was on justice reform with a focus on institutional racism. Though she offered few policy commitments, her focus on the topic, as well as her highlighting racism was more than we’ve heard from any Democratic candidate since Jesse Jackson, Sr. when he ran for the presidency in 1988.

But the last few weeks have been challenging for Clinton on policy impacting African Americans. Recently, the hashtag #WhichHillary trended on Twitter and highlighted her history of inconsistencies.

The hashtag started after Black Lives Matter activist Ashley Williams disrupted a fundraiser in Charleston, S.C., over a statement Clinton made in 1996, when she told an audience that young people who committed crimes had to be “brought to heel.” She also used the phrase “superpredators” — a theory advanced about black youth by Princeton Professor John Diluilio in 1995, that has since been discredited. (Editor’s note: Clinton now says, “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words.”)

Other blasts from Clinton’s past that keep coming back to haunt her. In 2008, during a Democratic debate, the seven candidates on stage were asked if they would end the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity and apply it retroactively to those already in jail. Clinton was the only candidate to say no to retroactivity.

She’s also having difficulty distancing herself from her husband, former President Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform Bill and the largest crime bill in U.S. history, which included over $9 billion in prison funding, signed by her husband in 1994.

Clinton’s current problem is that so much of what she says now is not backed up by legislation she worked on while she was a member of the U.S. Senate. And as with so many other voting decisions, black voters must walk on by faith regarding which Hillary Clinton would show up at the White House. Clinton does have the high praise of many black lawmakers who swear she has always been focused on the concerns of African Americans.

“We have a relationship, it didn’t just start with this campaign,” said Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL). Brown was a supporter of Clinton’s in 2008 until the very end. “She has been involved in issues impacting African Americans before during and after the campaign was over,” Brown told The Root Feb. 25.

So what about Sen. Bernie Sanders? Is he better than Clinton?

Well, Sen. Sanders voted for the massive Clinton Crime Bill too. But then there’s the fact that he also was involved in the Civil Rights movement at a time when Hillary Clinton was a “Goldwater girl.” The fact is, as a presidential candidate, only Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. has a more impressive record of involvement in the Civil Rights movement than Sanders.

Sanders was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Chicago and was arrested at several civil rights demonstrations. Over the last few weeks more images and video of Sanders have surfaced of him being arrested at anti-segregation protests.

“I’d rather be on the side that is closer to Dr. Martin Luther King,” rapper Michael “Killer Mike” Render has said of Sanders. “King was called a radical and out of step,” the same things Sanders is called now, Render argues.

But Sanders’ record in Congress, which began in 1991 in the House and 2007 in the Senate, is not deep on the type of racial justice work he’s discussing on the campaign trail today. He has championed fighting income inequality, providing health care (as has Clinton), ending poverty and pushing back against the Patriot Act and the Iraq War. He also assisted Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) by pushing a provision for community health care centers into the Affordable Care Act.

What many defenders of Sanders say about him is that you won’t find statements from him in the 1990s about “superpredators” around issues of justice reform, but rather a discussion around how poverty and crime are connected. Sanders was an associate member of the Congressional Black Caucus (when they had associate memberships) in the 1990s yet has only recently offered a bill on ending federal funding of private prisons and signed on to a racial profiling bill authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) that has been around for years.

There’s no doubt that both Sanders and Clinton have focused on issues that impact Black communities more than all of the Republican candidates who have competed, other than Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and John Kasich (R-OH). Neither Sanders nor Clinton is likely to be able to push the key points of a black agenda through an obstructionist Congress, just as President Obama could not get the number one issue on the Hispanic agenda — immigration reform — through Congress.

But neither were standouts legislatively on Black issues. Black voters will have no choice but to collectively piece together much of what Sanders and Clinton have done over the course of their careers, searching for indicators of what their priorities would be as President of the United States.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a Washington, D.C.-based political reporter who writes the Crew of 42 blog. She appears regularly on NewsOne Now with Roland Martin on TV One. Follow her on Twitter.


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