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Ferguson Overlooked at Presidential Debate in ‘Epicenter’ of the Black Lives Matter Movement

Auditi Guha

“Visiting the epicenter of the current movement and not speaking about police brutality, militarization, systemic racism was a clear choice—a shun that seeks to disregard the power of the movement and the plight of oppressed persons in this nation," said Ashley Yates, an early on-the-ground organizer in Ferguson originally from St. Louis, in an email to Rewire.

Held at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the second presidential debate Sunday night did not address Ferguson—located less than 15 miles away—or the Black Lives Matter movement it fueled two years ago.

At the first debate on September 26, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton touched upon systemic racism and criminal justice reform, while Republican nominee Donald Trump defended stop-and-frisk policies. But at the second one, which followed a town hall-style involving questions from area residents, neither candidate directly addressed the policy agenda put forth by the Movement for Black Lives, or explicitly stated “Black lives matter.”

This omission did not come as a surprise to advocates and local organizers.

“I wish I could say something new was revealed to us about the candidates or this democracy by the omission of Ferguson from the presidential debate. Instead, it’s just further evidence of why we must continue to challenge the systems of our two party government that allow such a blatant disregard to occur,” Ashley Yates, an early on-the-ground organizer in Ferguson originally from St. Louis, said in an email to Rewire.

“Visiting the epicenter of the current movement and not speaking about police brutality, militarization, systemic racism was a clear choice—a shun that seeks to disregard the power of the movement and the plight of oppressed persons in this nation,” Yates stated.

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“People are justifiably outraged,” Pamela Merritt, co-director of the reproductive justice group Reproaction who is based in St. Louis, said in an email to Rewire. “Earlier this year, Missouri became the first state to pass a Stand Your Ground law since the murder of Trayvon Martin, and state politicians spent months persecuting the state’s lone abortion provider while ignoring the fact that state violence against Black people continues with alarming regularity and little accountability. Any authentic policy conversation in St Louis, Missouri would have acknowledged and explored the status of demands made by the movement for Black lives.”

“It is a sad commentary on the most recent debate, held in the shadow of Ferguson, that the Black Lives Matter Movement and its policy demands did not get the attention they deserve,” said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of history, race, and public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, in an email to Rewire.

Muhammad was one of many who took to social media Sunday night to note the glaring omission.

“I’m disappointed that the candidates weren’t asked about policing and #BlackLivesMatter. Very important to our country and our city,” posted Antonio French on Twitter after the debate. The St. Louis alderman, who is running for mayor, made national news documenting the Ferguson protests on social media two years ago.

“Are we seriously having a debate in St. Louis without a SINGLE QUESTION about racial bias, policing and #BlackLivesMatter” posted political commentator Sally Kohn.

Demonstrations after a white police officer killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson two years ago brought widespread attention to the deeply rooted societal challenges facing individuals living in racially segregated communities nationwide.

“You would not know Mike Brown’s name if we had not taken to the street,” said Tara Tee, a Ferguson resident who created the community organization Hands Up United to help liberate Black and brown people through education, art, advocacy, and agriculture, in a Rewire article on the second anniversary of Brown’s death.

Tee said in an email to Rewire that she didn’t watch the debate “partially because I knew there would be no mention of Haiti, school to prison pipeline, poor folks, or Ferguson which is a 10-minute drive from the debate site.”

In August, she told Rewire that other than widespread awareness, not much has changed since Ferguson.

“On the ground, there’s still very much racial profiling, there’s still predatory policing, there’s still ticketing and fines aggressively directed toward poor people, she said. “We’ve just picked up the fight of our ancestors. These are some of the same things that we’ve been fighting for for many, many years at this point.”

Social media also lit up Sunday night with complaints of other key issues the debate bypassed, including climate change and the Dakota Access pipeline construction.

“On the subject of climate change, both Clinton and Trump failed to mention Native Americans and the Dakota Access Pipeline,” tweeted Simon Moya-Smith, culture editor at Indian Country Today.

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