A planned speech in Seattle by presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders celebrating the anniversary of Social Security and Medicare was scuttled Saturday after protesters from a Black Lives Matter chapter took the stage and demanded that the crowd hold Sanders “accountable” for not doing enough, in their view, to address police brutality and other issues on the group’s agenda.
Sanders, who has emerged as the leading alternative to Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination, was the final speaker scheduled on a long program. Shortly after the senator from Vermont started speaking, a small group of protesters took the microphone, shared a series of local grievances with the crowd, including school disparities and gentrification in Seattle, and then asked for a period of silence to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown being shot and killed during a confrontation with a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Organizers allowed the period of silence, as some in the large crowd booed and shouted for the protesters to leave the stage. Afterward, Marissa Janae Johnson, who identified herself as a leader of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Seattle, asked the crowd to “join us now in holding Bernie Sanders accountable for his actions.” She motioned for Sanders to join her at the microphone.
After several minutes of frantic conversations, Sanders left the stage and greeted people in the large crowd who had turned out to see him. Many chanted his name.
The tense scene, which was streamed live by a Seattle television station, was reminiscent of one July 18 in Phoenix, when a larger group of Black Lives Matter activists disrupted a Democratic presidential forum at the liberal Netroots Nation gathering that featured both Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.
At the Netroots event, both O’Malley and Sanders were able to continue speaking, though neither filled their allotted times.
At Saturday’s event, Johnson noted that O’Malley had since released a plan on criminal justice, which calls for several policing reforms, including widespread use of body cameras.
Though Sanders has not formally released a similar plan, he has been speaking out about policing issues, including during an appearance last month before a gathering in Louisiana of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations. In that speech, he called for the “demilitarization” of police forces, an end to privately run prisons and an effort to address the “overincarceration” of nonviolent offenders.
As Sanders left the event in Seattle on Saturday, he told reporters that he found the situation “unfortunate.”
“I am disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands at which I was invited to speak about fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare,” he later said in a statement. “I was especially disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.”
Sanders was scheduled to appear later Saturday at a large-scale rally in Seattle organized by his campaign. He is in the midst of a three-day swing on the West Coast, with stops also scheduled in Portland and Los Angeles.