The #BlackLivesMatter Discussion At The First Debate Omitted 3 Crucial Words
During the first presidential debate on Monday night, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were more than eager to discuss each other's taxes, but conspicuously quiet when it came to the Black Lives Matter movement. This was the first of three presidential debates, and it was unlikely that the candidates would cover all the major topics in one night — but with the event coming on the heels of more instances of police violence, the omission was curious.
To be fair, moderator Lester Holt did attempt to open a dialogue on race and criminal justice. Clinton, recognizing the opportunity to build upon her previous support for criminal justice reform, was prepared, stating, "Race remains a significant challenge in our country...Unfortunately, race still determines too much."
Clinton went on to discuss the inherent and systemic racism that plagues our current justice system, calling stop and frisk measures unconstitutional, and detailing how black Americans are disproportionately affected by gun violence and longer prison sentences. Clinton hit on multiple key points of systemic racism, implicit bias, and justice reform — though she did not say those three important words that would have crucially aligned her with the movement: Black Lives Matter.
Whether she would have continued and expanded on this message is unclear, however, as the question quickly devolved into a debate over the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk measures.
Trump's response — which defended stop-and-frisk and claimed it was constitutional — only snowballed as he showed how truly out of touch he is with racial tensions in America. Within a matter of minutes he insinuated that inner-city streets are a living hell where you automatically got shot, and completely glossed over the discussion of police violence. Indeed, Trump chose that moment to discuss his police endorsements.
This isn't the first time that the Black Lives Matter movement has been included in a national debate. In October, Democrat primary candidates were asked if "black lives matter, or all lives matter?" Although the majority of candidates responded with "black lives matter," some viewers were unhappy with Clinton's response, feeling that she avoided saying the phrase, and glossed over the matter. In contrast, Clinton's comments on Monday were met with approval.
Although the phrase itself may not have been mentioned, the spirit and ideals of the movement were addressed — at least by Clinton, who showed a true understanding of systemic racism. Even without specifically citing the movement, just having the words "systemic racism" and "implicit bias" used in a presidential debate is a substantial step forward to opening up a serious dialogue at the high levels of government. And given the contentious nature of the question on Monday, it's likely that the subject will be addressed again in future debates.