Elizabeth Warren endorses Black Lives Matter. Why does that matter?

Sen. Warren compared Black Lives Matter activists to civil rights leaders, and made an impassioned plea for reforming policing tactics, voting rights, and economic equality.

Susan Walsh/AP/File
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left, accompanied by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington in this file photo taken July 30, 2015.

Speaking at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston on Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Mass. delivered an endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a speech on racial inequality and civil rights, Senator Warren compared the Black Lives Matter movement to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, calling BLM activists the “new generation of civil rights leaders.” Though not a candidate for president, she called for broad policy reforms to post-Civil Rights era racism in the United States.

Warren called for body cameras on all police officers, restoring parts of the Voting Rights Act, and closing the wage gap between white and nonwhite workers, and she pushed back on criticism of the movement that BLM activists are responsible for instigating more violence.

“Watch them march through the streets, ‘hands up don’t shoot’ – not to incite a riot, but to fight for their lives. To fight for their lives,” she said.

“The first civil rights battles were hard fought. But they established that Black Lives Matter. That Black Citizens Matter. That Black Families Matter. Half a century later, we have made real progress, but we have not made enough progress.”

Warren organized her speech around three key issues on race: police brutality, voting rights, and economic equality. And her defense of the BLM movement was much more forceful than that of any presidential candidate thus far.

Catalyzed by the police shooting of Michael Brown last summer and the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. that resulted, the Black Lives Matter movement has extended its efforts beyond city streets and into campaign events. All three Democratic candidates, former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vt., and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have met with some of the most visible activists.

"Senator Warren's speech clearly and powerfully calls into question America's commitment to black lives by highlighting the role that structural racism has played and continues to play with regard to housing discrimination and voting rights," said DeRay Mckesson, a prominent activist in an interview with the Washington Post. "And Warren, better than any political leader I've yet heard, understands the protests as a matter of life or death – that the American dream has been sustained by an intentional violence and that the uprisings have been the result of years of lived trauma."

A few weeks after protesters interrupted Mr. O’Malley, he released a new criminal justice policy calling for fixes to “our broken criminal justice system,” including ensuring “that justice is delivered for all Americans – regardless of race, class, or place,” The Christian Science Monitor previously reported.

Sen. Sanders, who gave up his rally stage in Seattle to BLM protesters, subsequently hired Symone Sanders – a young black criminal justice advocate – as his national press secretary. Sanders is incorporating some of her suggestions into his campaign, she later told Buzzfeed.

At a closed-door meeting with three prominent BLM activists, Mrs. Clinton said, “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.

“You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not,” she added. “But at the end of the day we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them.”

Clinton has so far released policy proposals for voting rights and criminal justice reform.

But no candidate has yet been as full-throated as Warren in her defense of the Black Lives Matter Movement, which she links to the Civil Rights movement from five decades earlier.

“Fifty years later, violence against African Americans has not disappeared,” Warren said Sunday. “Today, the specific tools of oppression have changed – voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and mass disenfranchisement through a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black citizens. The tools have changed, but black voters are still deliberately cut out of the political process.”

Read Warren's full speech here.

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