By Charles D. Ellison
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune
(NNPA)—There are now five presidential battleground states in 2016 that could be heavily impacted by the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Of course, it depends on a variety of factors and where the political winds blow. And many observers are in wait-and-see mode over the exact status of a scattered, yet burgeoning “Second Civil Rights Movement” some experts perceive as lacking needed political teeth.
That status, also put on slight hiatus by a much more frigid than normal winter, just got complicated with last week’s shootings of two Ferguson, Mo., police officers during an otherwise peaceful protest marking the resignation of police chief Thomas Jackson.
Yet, despite the challenges, there are signs the movement could dramatically shake up the political landscape in several key states. Location, it seems, is everything. The five battleground states identified are also the same spots where tragic shootings of unarmed Black men have taken place in recent years: Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Three of these states are already launching pads for three prospective Republican presidential candidates.
All five states are also places where Democratic presidential primaries, statewide gubernatorial and senatorial races and general elections find campaigns occasionally declaring all-out electoral war when wooing Black voters.
With the tragedies in each of these states sparking massive social justice protests — from the genesis of #BlackLivesMatter in Ferguson to the spawning of Young, Black and Gifted in Madison, Wis. — there is evidence the movements could mobilize Black voters into action for 2016. That comes at a time when many activists and voter advocates are concerned African-American turnout will be substantially depressed in the next presidential election without President Barack Obama’s name on the ballot. Many Democratic strategists worry Black turnout will be a major challenge without the kind of candidate that will excite them into action in the next election cycle.
However, issues such as police brutality and violence could.
“Given the intensity of the issue and that it’s not likely to be resolved any time soon, I think the momentum will last until the next election,” DePaul University political scientist Christina Rivers told the Tribune. “In particular, I think the #BlackLivesMatter movement will galvanize young Black voters, especially students.”
Rivers also points to students and young voters in North Carolina fighting against that state’s voter suppression laws. And last week, students from HBCUs Fisk and Tennessee State University filed a federal lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s voter ID law.
In Florida, the African-American community is still uneasy and upset over the needless so-called “Stand Your Ground” defense slayings of Black teens Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, in which the former’s killer, a troubled George Zimmerman, was acquitted. But, the Sunshine State is also a well-known political bellwether greatly influencing presidential primaries and the general election cycle. It just recovered from a caustic gubernatorial election in which the state’s controversial Republican Gov. Rick Scott won a second term and one of its U.S. senators, Republican Marco Rubio, is openly mulling a 2016 presidential bid. The state is also 20 percent African American.
In Missouri, Black protesters are still smarting over the killing of Black teen Michael Brown and the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Upcoming city council protests in April could be a preview of what the Black electorate, 13 percent of Missouri’s population, could do in 2016.
While protests simmered to a near stop over the winter, advocates have kick-started activities in the wake of federal Department of Justice probe findings of racist policing patterns by the department, the announcement of no civil rights charges against Wilson and the exit of the police chief and city manager.
Ohio is also home to two extremely tragic cases: the case of 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford in Beavercreek. In both instances, white police officers wrongly assumed Black males were armed and dangerous when they were not, killing both within seconds of seeing them and without stopping to assess either situation.
Out of all five states identified, Wisconsin could be the ugliest. A perfect firestorm of political factors are converging on that state, still shaking off the hangover of a nasty recall election triggered by labor unions against Badger State Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.). Walker won, but the wounds are visible as Walker continues pressing forward with state right-to-work laws perceived as an existential threat to the state’s public sector workforce.
Making the situation even more politically caustic is the recent fatal shooting of unarmed Black teen Tony Robinson in the state capitol, Madison, Wis., by a white city police officer.
While Madison is considered an oasis of Badger State liberal politics, and the state’s second-largest city with a Black population near 10 percent, it’s now become the flashpoint of brewing protests over Robinson’s death.
But, Walker is also currently viewed as a growing favorite and front-runner in the 2016 presidential race. While the governor, predictably, has not made any comment on what’s happened in Madison, an emerging alliance between Black protesters and state labor unions desperately seeking an ally in their fight against right-to-work could become a thorn in Walker’s national ambitions.
It may not be as impactful in the GOP primary (since the Black vote is less than 10 percent of the Republican electorate). But any sudden spike in Black political activity in Wisconsin could prove challenging for Republicans, especially if Walker wins the primary as a presidential nominee or, at the very least, becomes the nominee’s running mate.
Still, some are doubtful the growing youth movement will gain the traction it needs by 2016 or be politically savvy enough to know what it must do.
“We’ll see how much actual policy comes out of state legislatures and city councils in those states,” said former Colorado Senate President Peter Groff, now a prominent national advisor to Black state legislators. “Recommendations are sitting there, but I haven’t seen much policy movement.”
“From a media standpoint, the ‘movement’ is losing steam,” added Groff.
Washington, D.C.-based attorney and former District of Columbia Democratic Party Committee Chair A. Scott Bolden is also skeptical.
“I would be leery of the notion that these incidents will resonate beyond the protesters,” Bolden argued, suggesting movement platforms could inadvertently alienate white voters. “People who don’t look like you and me have a much different and much more positive view of police.”
“Historically, these types of [police brutality] movements or protests haven’t translated into political impact,” added Bolden. “This angst against police has always been present. The difference, obviously, is social media since we now have immediate access to the events.”