FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Hillary Rodham Clinton and her two top rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination each invoked "Black Lives Matter" in speeches here before a mostly African American crowd on Friday, showing solidarity to a movement that has viewed them with some skepticism in recent months.

Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, two Republican White House hopefuls speaking at the same event, did not.

The contrast at the National Urban League's annual conference highlighted the divergent approaches Republicans and Democrats are generally taking when talking about the raging national debate over race, violence and law enforcement in America.

"Young people have taken to the streets, dignified and determined, urging us to affirm the basic fact that black lives matter," said Clinton, whose campaign kickoff speech left a major Black Lives Matter organizer unimpressed. "And because of people across this country sharing their stories with courage and strength, a growing number of Americans are realizing what many of you have been saying for a long time: we can’t go on like this; we are better than this; things must change."


After taking heat from Black Lives Matter activists at a gathering of liberals earlier this month, Sanders and O'Malley each made a point, in their own ways, to avoid a repeat.

O'Malley, a former Maryland governor, recalled his 1999 campaign for mayor of Baltimore when the city was seized by violence.

"Every year we buried 300 young black man who died violent deaths on our streets. And black lives matter," said O'Malley, who focused heavily in his remarks on criminal justice reform and issued a nine-page paper outlining his plan for doing so.

Sanders, a self-described socialist senator from Vermont, also called for revamping those laws.

"We must reform our criminal justice system. Black lives do matter and we must value black lives," said Sanders.


Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and Bush, a former Florida governor also addressed race in their speeches.


Bush highlighted his removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol and his gubernatorial record on diversity: During his tenure, he told the crowd, the state increased the number of black Floridians serving in the judiciary by 43 percent, and its use of minority-owned businesses tripled.

Carson recalled confronting racism as a 8th grader when, as the only black student in his class, he achieved the highest academic performance, leading to his teacher “chastising” other students for falling short of an African-American student.

“Was she an evil person? No, she was an ignorant person,” he said.


He added: “It’s not the skin and the hair that makes them who they are — it’s the brain that makes them who they are."

Carson has said that not only do black lives matter, but "all lives matter." And Bush recently said O'Malley, who got into trouble at the liberal conference earlier this month for basically saying the same thing, should not have apologized.


The precise language politicians choose to use has become a key point of contention as the Black Lives Matter movement that sprung up in the aftermath of the Ferguson, Mo. protests has gained increasing national attention.

As my colleague David Weigel noted, a popular Reddit post by a member called GeekAesthete has gone viral in its attempt to explain the problems many have with "all lives matter:"

Imagine that you're sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don't get any. So you say "I should get my fair share." And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, "everyone should get their fair share." Now, that's a wonderful sentiment -- indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad's smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn't solve the problem that you still haven't gotten any!
The problem is that the statement "I should get my fair share" had an implicit "too" at the end: "I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else." But your dad's response treated your statement as though you meant "only I should get my fair share", which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that "everyone should get their fair share," while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.