by Black Lives Matter, Upstate NY/Guest
Today (April 11), organizers from the Black Lives Matter chapter of Upstate NY had a private meeting with Presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders. The meeting occurred shortly before the Senator addressed an over-capacity crowd at The Washington Avenue Armory in Albany. We were joined by family members of Donald “Dontay” Ivy—a Black man who was unconstitutionally stopped and killed by the Albany Police Department last April.
Our decision to meet with Senator Sanders is not in any way an endorsement of his candidacy for President. This was, however, an opportunity to use the Senator’s platform and influence to further our demands for racial justice on a national level. We appreciate that the Senator has continued to fine tune his message regarding existing racial disparities, and we believe that is a direct response to the tactics employed by dedicated activists and communities of color around the country.
Senator Sanders also took the time to speak to the family of Dontay Ivy. The family explained—often through tears—how Dontay was racially profiled and stopped, before being tased to death mere feet from his home. Sanders, like many other Democratic candidates, conveyed his regret that Black Americans are routinely and disproportionately brutalized, harassed, imprisoned, surveilled, and scrutinized by law enforcement. During the exchange Sanders stated, “What we don’t have yet is a culture in this country that says to the police department that lethal force […] is a last resort—not a first resort. Clearly in [Dontay’s] case that could have been dealt with in a hundred different ways.” Although we are disappointed that the Senator did not specifically reference Dontay Ivy in his address today, we intend to hold Senator Sanders and his team to their agreement to look into the Ivy case and be more purposeful and vigilant in amplifying the issues facing Black and Brown citizens. We expect to have further dialogue with the Sanders campaign, and look forward to meeting with the national staff for a follow up conversation.
It’s worth noting that Sanders did address several of our grievances during his speech. However, we also take note of what was not addressed. In addition to excluding Dontay Ivy, Sanders did not mention to our satisfaction a meaningful redistribution of resources—specifically to communities of color. He did not mention that even the most well-intentioned police officers are complicit in causing harm to Black and Brown people, and are rarely (if ever) held accountable when they do. He did not mention the limitations of police reform, and that trainings and “safer” weapons won’t undo the systematic oppression of Black neighborhoods. He did not mention that Albany, like most cities, lack any multi-service community centers or significant resources serving the most marginalized. He did not mention that New York is one of only two states where children over the age of 16 are automatically treated as adults, and how that disproportionately impacts children of color. He did not mention Black Lives Matter.
While we understand that words are a far cry from action, we agree with Angela Davis’ recent sentiment acknowledging the merits of Black activists “participating in this electoral period” and “forcing candidates to speak on issues which they might not speak.” Only a massive shift in our national consciousness will create a climate where ANY candidate or elected official will have no choice but to unapologetically defend and uplift Black lives.
Black Lives Matter, Upstate NY