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Racial Unrest: How is it Impacting the Elections?

By Brittany Benson and Julia Kindelin |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020

As Election Day nears and millions of votes pour in through mail, political tensions in America remain high. Over the summer of 2020, discussion surrounding police brutality and racism has taken a global stage. 

Millions around the world are marching in the streets protesting for justice and change. Calls for racial justice have put a spotlight on the two presidential candidates, sitting President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden.  

Many protests are being led by Black Lives Matter, a global organization who aims to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to fight against violence inflicted on Black communities by the state. The phrase, “Black Lives Matter” has become a battle cry used by protesters globally. 

Black Lives Matter is encouraging citizens to register to vote through their campaign #WhatMatters2020. Its website provides links for users to register to vote, check voting deadlines, vote by mail, check registration status and find drop boxes or polling locations. 

“Black lives won’t matter if we don’t vote” is a message Black Lives Matter shares with supporters, urging the importance of voting in this election.

John Watson, a professor of Political Science at University of Illinois at Chicago, acknowledged the racial divide in America through the perspective of professional athletes. 

“Today, "Black Lives Matter" is emblazoned on the basketball courts and player jerseys of the NBA, though reportedly the league is going to end the practice for next season due to low TV ratings,” he said. “Players are much more free to express themselves, though it is true that Colin Kaepernick is currently without an NFL contract, ostensibly for his kneeling during the anthem. The reality is we are a divided country, as divided as we have ever been since the Civil War.”

Ralph Massie, 27, an activist from Evanston, encourages voters to take action, especially through social media. The phrase, “Vote for Change” is often echoed online to motivate users to get out and vote.

“With these deaths happening throughout the world but specifically in the United States, we have to take action because no one else will,” he said.

An analysis of the Twitter hashtag shows much of the conversation through #BlackLivesMatter started being about voting and making a change for the black community. 

#BlackLivesMatter has become another way for supporters of the movement to encourage people to head to the polls in November. Millions of people, typically younger individuals, have been engaging in the conversation about voting online. The hashtag has helped spread awareness about the importance of voting for a candidate that will take action and help eliminate police brutality and racial violence. 

“Both candidates are not ideal but vote for the better option,” Massie said.

The Brennan Center for Justice collected data on voter registration rates from 21 states and found that 17 of those states had registrations decline by an average of 38% compared to 2016.

Trump's mishandling of the pandemic and his bull-in-a-china-shop attacks on democratic norms and governance have made this election a big referendum on the last four years. I expect healthy turnout from Dems and possibly even from GOP voters, with a SCOTUS nominee hanging in the balance,” Watson said. “Trump’s approval/disapproval numbers have been surprisingly stable, not falling below the 37-43 [percent] approval range no matter what he does.”

Watson said he thinks the election will be close based on Trump’s presidency, comparing his supporters to Hillary’s unstable supporters in 2012. He predicts Biden will be elected because of those unstable voters.

Trump has condemned the protests and violence that has occurred with them, releasing several campaign ads criticizing Joe Biden for his plan to defund the police. In actuality, Biden does not endorse defunding police. He created his own campaign ad aimed at Black Americans titled “We’re Listening”. It states that he is in favor of police reform and conditioning federal funds, but did not mention defunding the police.

Biden’s campaign also promises to create a national standard on the use of force, rein-in qualified immunity, and hold police accountable. He released a series of ads targeting Black voters, covering topics including criminal justice reform, the importance of voting, supporting running mate Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian American to run on an important presidential ticket, and trusting government.

“Biden's selection of Harris makes it easier to appeal to the African-American vote. He needs to not take the demographic for granted and to avoid his propensity for making gaffes while speaking extemporaneously,” Watson said. “At this stage, I think there is very little Trump can do to change his standing with African-Americans. His latest comments twice calling Harris a "monster" surely closes the door with just weeks to go.” 

Nikitha Ballari, president of the NIU NAACP March 2019 and March 2020, said that Biden's choice to avoid radical policy is part of his strategy.

“Since Biden has chosen to take a more moderate stance to ensure that voters from both ends will consider him, it would be unreasonable to expect him to stop funding police departments,” Ballari said. “That’s why I think that he should focus on at least changing policies nationwide in regards to excessive use of force.” 

During an event in Atlanta on Sept. 25, Trump unveiled “The Platinum Plan”, a list of propositions to aid Black America. The plan promises to increase access to capital in black communities by almost $500 billion as well as create 3 million new jobs for Black communities and 500,000 jobs new Black owned businesses. 

The only mention of police in Trump's new plan can be found under the “Safety and Justice” section, stating that they plan to restore safety to American cities through installing responsible, professional, and accountable models of policing. It mentions they plan to incorporate diversity training and accreditation standards. 

Trump has mentioned on several occasions that he has done the most for the Black community since Lincoln, but Trump's rhetoric, particularly on Twitter has been lacking.

The Platinum Plan is a stark contrast from Trump’s previous rhetoric. On Sept. 4, 21 days before the plan’s release, the White House sent a memo to federal agencies telling them to cease training on “white privilege” and “critical race theory”. Other training including those that may suggest that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or that another race is inherently racist or evil were also told to stop. The memo described these training sessions as “divisive anti-American propaganda.” 

“He has done nothing for the Black community other than spew racially divisive language among his supporters, thus endangering the Black community as well as nationwide rest and civility,” Ballari said. “There’s nothing that he could do to gain the Black vote, as he’s made his stance on white supremacy and systemic racism clear as day: it is not my priority nor do I think it’s a problem”

The Pew Research Center published a poll showing that 9% of registered Trump voters agree that it is “a lot more difficult” to be black in America than it is to be white. On the contrary, 74% of Biden supporters agree with the statement. Looking at race, 87% of Black participants were in support of Black Lives Matter in September 2020 compared to 45% of white participants and 69% of Hispanic participants. 

The percentages of Black, white, and Hispanic participants that are in Support of Black Lives Matter are similar to percentages about who they would vote for if the election was today. Results of another poll indicated that 89% of black voters said that they would vote for Biden if the election were held today. In addition, 44% of white voters and 63% of hispanics said they would vote for Biden as well. 

Watson said that similar protests for racial justice have existed in the U.S. in the past.

“We have come a long way over the last 50 years but still have a long way to go,” he said, “I still remember the awful price that Tommie Smith and John Carlos paid for their peaceful civil rights protests at the 1968 Olympics. They were expelled from the Olympic Village, subjected to death threats, their children were bullied, they struggled to find employment."

Each term spiked significantly May 31 to June 4. This was at an all time high because of the collective action occurring on social media to protest racism and police brutality. This online protest was called Blackout Tuesday. 

Massie, along with many other activists, had participated in the support of Blackout Tuesday online, which had gone on further into the month of June with many people putting the Black tile not only as a post but as their profile picture to support the BLM movement. 

“Looking on social media at that time, the majority of my timeline was in support for the BLM movement showing respect by not posting anything that didn’t relate,” Massie said. “This movement needs to be considered when making your vote.” 

To register to vote or to check your voter registration status, visit Vote.org.

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