Bernie Sanders To Appear On BET’s Criminal Justice Forum

Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley will join GOP candidate Dr. Ben Carson on BET’s “20/20/ Leaders of America” forum on Saturday, November 21. Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton has opted out and will not appear. The livestreamed event will focus on criminal justice, a hot topic among African-Americans and other minorities in the United States.

BET Networks Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Debra L. Lee, explained the importance of such events in the Black community.

BET Networks continues to make a concerted effort to mobilize the significant voting bloc of unregistered African-Americans and encourage them to sign up and get to the polls.”

The forum is not technically a debate; however, it will offer Bernie Sanders valuable exposure time among a significant portion of the eligible voters that often feel left out of or disenfranchised from the political process.

Bernie Sanders has long been a proponent of civil rights, whether they are for African-Americans, Native Americans, those who are LGBT or transgendered, and other historically oppressed groups. From his earliest days, he has understood the importance of the political process and how it can greatly affect the populace.

Reforming the criminal justice system has consistently been one of Bernie Sanders’ hot button issues and he knows that the system is skewed greatly against young African-American men. He argues that income inequality and fewer career and educational opportunities directly correlates to higher crime rates, both among African-Americans and among Americans in general. His awareness of racial and ethnic discrimination stems back to his earliest days when he learned that some of his family were killed in the Holocaust during WWII.

In the November 18 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Sanders discusses how he learned the political process can directly affect the lives of people, and why he supports equality for all.

“…one of the factors that influenced my life was the knowledge…that my dad’s family — and probably my mother’s family as well…were killed by Hitler. So what you learn, not intellectually when you’re seven years of age, but it goes into your emotional instinctual base, is that politics makes a difference. Hitler and the Nazis were elected to office in Germany. And 50 million people died in that war, including 6 million Jews.”

This early knowledge shaped his own political views, and how he seems to understand the way minority populations, especially African-Americans, view the political process.

“That’s why many African-Americans pay attention to politics in a different way. Politics meant that segregation and lynching existed in this country. And that’s why African-Americans are very sensitive to what goes on in politics.”

Many voters who currently support Hillary Clinton still do not know who Bernie Sanders is. Nor do they know that he became involved in politics through the civil rights movement. He is one of only two senators that attended the 1963 March on Washington and witnessed Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

While in college in Chicago, Illinois, he organized with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and led a sit-in against segregated housing. In fact, Bernie Sanders is perhaps one of the few lawmakers today that was arrested by his 24th birthday while fighting for civil rights. He is also one of the very few “children of the 60s” who has not strayed from his original beliefs and philosophy. If nothing else,the passage of time has only made his convictions all the stronger.

Additionally, Bernie Sanders deeply respects Franklin Delano Roosevelt for having the courage to do what was right for the country, and also Jesse Jackson, whose work in creating the Rainbow Coalition may have made it possible for Barack Obama to be elected President. During the same interview with Rolling Stone, he explained why he respects Jackson.

“A guy who has not gotten the credit that he deserves is Jesse Jackson. What he did in the concept of the Rainbow Coalition, we take for granted now. The political concept that we can bring blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asian-Americans together is a very important development in American political history. It certainly laid the groundwork for Obama.”

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 10: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) talks with demonstrators after addressing a rally calling for higher wages for federal contract workers on Capitol Hill November 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. Organized by Good Jobs Nation, the demonstrators were calling for a $15 per hour wage plus benefits for all U.S. federal contract workers, including many who work at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sanders, who has consistently trailed the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, is making inroads with voters of every race and ethnicity. And while he trails Clinton in Democratic polls, he consistently outperforms her against various Republican candidates.

In a Quinnepac poll for the Colorado Republican race, Dr. Ben Carson leads by 25 percent among conservative voters and also leads Hillary Clinton by 52 to 38 percent. In fact, Clinton performs worse than any of the Republican front runners. However, Bernie Sanders performs better among voters in a general election poll, but still comes behind Dr. Carson with 40 percent to Dr. Carson’s 52 percent.

The Vermont senator’s second place showing could be simply a case of poor name recognition among candidates, as Clinton has had more than two decades in the spotlight; first as First Lady, then as a New York senator, and most recently, as Secretary of State. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has remained within the small confines of Vermont and New England.

All that is likely to change soon, however, and not only due to his appearance on BET Network’s forum. In recent weeks, Bernie Sanders has received endorsements from several high-profile Black activists and lawmakers. Endorsements have come from U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s (D-MN), the nation’s first Muslim legislator and Dr. Cornel West, a respected African-American philosopher and academic. Even President Barack Obama has positive things to say about Bernie Sanders, stopping just short of giving him a full endorsement.

Bernie Sanders has also garnered two large labor union endorsements: The American Postal Workers Union and the National Nurses Union. The APWU is the largest union in the nation, with more than 200,000 members. The NNU has 185,000 members, giving Sanders much more visibility and legitimacy among labor workers.

Just this week, a surprise endorsement came when top Ohio Democrat Nina Turner turned away from Hillary Clinton and instead threw her support behind Bernie Sanders.

What does Nina Turner’s sudden turn-around mean for Bernie Sanders? For one thing, Turner is a popular Democratic leader in an important voting state. As such, with her support, more voters will assuredly take a closer look at Sanders. Turner has also announced that she is taking time off from her Democratic Party post to campaign for Bernie.

The forum will be livestreamed on on November 21, at 1p.m. EST.

[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]