Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has remained mum about a chance meeting more than a week ago with the mother of Sandra Bland, a woman who became a face of the Black Lives Matter movement after dying in police custody outside Houston in July.
The senator from Vermont was eating at the East Street Cafe, a Thai restaurant in Washington’s Union Station, when he was approached by the Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner, a pastor at St. John’s Church in downtown Houston, who happened to be there with Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal.
According to an account on Bonner’s blog, she asked Sanders if he would like to meet Reed-Veal, and he replied, “Yes, please.”
“What happened to your daughter is inexcusable,” Sanders told Reed-Veal, according to Bonner’s account. “We are broken, and this has exposed us.”
“We asked Senator Sanders if we could take a picture with him and he consented,” Bonner wrote. “He did not use the moment as an opportunity to promote his campaign. … He did not try to turn it into a publicity stunt. He simply made space for a sacred moment, and then let it pass without trying to gain anything from it. … For that, I respect him. …. That choice may not have made him a very good politician, but it made him a better man.”
Earlier in his campaign, Sanders struggled to strike the right chord with the Black Lives Matters movement. He was visibly irritated when protesters interrupted his presentation at a Netroots Nation forum in Phoenix in July, and he elected not to speak at an event in Seattle in August after two women affiliated with the movement took the microphone from him.
Since then, however, Sanders has released a criminal justice plan and incorporated a call for reforming a “broken” system into his hour-long stump speech.
He often mentions the case of Bland, who was pulled over for minor traffic violation and then arrested after an escalating confrontation with a police officer, who tried to pull her out of her car. Bland was later found hanged in her Waller County jail cell.
During the meeting with Bland’s mother at Union Station, Sanders said he would say Bland’s name during the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas -- a promise he kept, Bonner says on her blog.
“Black lives matter,” Sanders said in response to a question at the debate. “The reason those words matter is the African American community knows that on any given day, some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail.”
Aides to Sanders declined to discuss the meeting with Bland’s mother when asked about it on Saturday.
"We don't discuss private meetings,” said Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs, “but I can assure you that Bernie Sanders would make criminal justice reform one of his highest priorities as president."