WATCH: Sanders delegate can’t forgive Clinton for mass incarceration, Iraq war, “racist campaign” against Obama
The Democratic National Convention has exposed the enormous fault lines within a fracturing party. Protests, chants and boos have been frequent, and Bernie Sanders delegates have even staged walkouts.
Salon has spoken with dozens of Sanders delegates in the past few days. Many of them expressed extreme frustration with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, and with the party apparatus itself, which they say is biased and undemocratic.
Shane Harris, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Florida, told Salon that he cannot forgive Clinton for her fueling of mass incarceration, for her vote for the Iraq war that took his friends away and for her “very racist campaign” against Barack Obama in 2008.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” Harris said, when asked about Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton. “It’s something that we’re trying to process.”
When asked why he preferred Sanders in the first place, Harris replied, “I’m going to be really honest. I’m 47. So, when Hillary made those comments about ‘super predators,’ I was maybe 16 or 17 years old, and she was talking about me and my friends.”
In the 1990s, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton lobbied strongly for the “tough-on-crime” policies of President Bill Clinton. In a 1996 speech, Hillary insisted that the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act would stop what she called “super predators,” what was widely recognized to be a racially coded euphemism for young black men.
“We have to bring them to heel,” Hillary insisted. Black Lives Matter activists have persistently criticized her for what they call racist strategy in promoting these harsh crime policies that fueled mass incarceration. In the presidential debate in April, Sanders condemned the remarks as “racist.”
President Clinton’s “three strikes and you’re out” crime initiative, which Harris noted was supported by both Hillary and Al Gore, “put a lot of people that I grew up with behind bars,” and “put a lot of my friends in jail behind this fake war on drugs,” he said.
Harris added: “Bernie gave a very impassioned speech and warned us, and said it’s gonna lead to mass incarceration and it’s gonna lead to a lot of black and brown people in jail, and poor people.”
Bill Clinton has repeatedly defended the crime bill, even while scholars warn it drastically accelerated racist mass incarceration.
Of those who didn’t become trapped in the prison-industrial complex, “a lot of my friends went to that war that she signed off on, that Bernie Sanders had the wisdom to say no to — the Iraq war,” Harris noted.
“And then you fast forward to 2008, and look at the very racist campaign that she ran against now President, then-Senator Obama.”
“All of these things are very hard for a black man to forgive,” he said.
When asked if he thinks he could endorse or vote for Clinton, Harris laughed.
“We still feel like the best candidate would be Bernie Sanders,” he stressed, noting that Sanders does much better among young voters, independents, Democrats and even Republicans. Clinton’s “numbers don’t go up, they go down,” Harris said.
He also criticized the DNC for its bias against Sanders and his supporters. “This is supposed to be a convention where we can unify the party and there have been a lot of glaring, silly mistakes, or blatant mistakes, that have been in a way very disrespectful to the Sanders campaign,” he said.
Harris added: “Particularly Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigning in disgrace, and then Clinton rewarding her with a job 32 minutes later is very insulting to the Sanders campaign. It’s not unifying.”
The Sanders delegate said he took an oath to support the Democratic Party’s nominee, but he confessed that it’s very difficult to get behind Clinton and the party establishment.
“When you personalize that decision about, am I going to reward this person with my support, it’s a very difficult decision that we have to wrestle with as black men,” Harris concluded.