Elizabeth Warren Speech On #BlackLivesMatter Highlights Key Injustices

September 28th 2015

On Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gave a speech on civil rights, racial injustice, and police brutality—a speech that Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King called "the best speech" he'd heard from a politician on these issues.

Politicians, by and large, have failed to fully connect with the Black Lives Matter movement. Attempts to understand and articulate the concerns of its members have fallen short of expectations, by focusing too much on the economic side of the issue, or distancing themselves from the problems of policing that have prompted protests throughout the country. Sen. Elizabeth Warren appeared to fill that political void, effectively articulating issues important to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Warren spoke at length about issues of racial injustice at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, as part of the organization's "Getting to the Point" speaker series. Her apparent appreciation for the Black Lives Matter movement and its social justice objectives came across loud and clear, especially as she called for comprehensive policing reform and drew parallels between today's protestors and Civil Rights activists from the 1960s.

RELATED: Shutting Down the Most Common Attacks on Black Lives Matter

"I speak today with the full knowledge that I have not personally experienced and can never truly understand the fear, the oppression, and the pain that confronts African Americans every day," Warren said. "But none of us can ignore what is happening in this country. Not when our Black friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets."

The federal lawmaker lauded the work of Black Lives Matter leaders and offered her unambiguous endorsement of the ongoing protest movement—a move that Democratic presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton have shied away from, reluctant to fully sign off on the group's political activities.

RELATED: Hillary Clinton Responds to Black Lives Matter Activists In New Hampshire

Warren, who said that she is not running for president, spoke about the underlying, social dynamics driving the movement, including the role of economic inequality in racial injustice.

"Economic justice is not—and has never been—sufficient to ensure racial justice," Warren stated. "Owning a home won't stop someone from burning a cross on the front lawn. Admission to a school won't prevent a beating on the sidewalk outside. But when Dr. King led hundreds of thousands of people to march on Washington, he talked about an end to violence, access to voting, and economic opportunity."

It was Warren's ability to illustrate the relationship between structural racism in the U.S. and the country's ongoing policing problems that impressed many who heard her speech. DeRay Mckesson, one of the leading figures of the Black Lives Matter movement, told the Washington Post that he hoped to meet Warren, explaining that Warren, "better than any political leader I've yet heard, understands the protests as a matter of life or death—that the American dream has been sustained by an intentional violence and that the uprisings have been the result of years of lived trauma."

"At times, Warren's speech read as if it could have been authored by the activists themselves—unyielding in its criticism of police violence and even invoking the phrase 'hands up, don't shoot,' a Ferguson rallying cry that conservatives have attacked as a lie because the Justice Department concluded that Michael Brown's hands were most likely not up in the air when he was shot and killed by Darren Wilson," the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery wrote. Lowery has been reporting on the movement since its inception.

RELATED: The Black Lives Matter Activists Have a Plan: Campaign Zero

Warren also touched on many of the points that Campaign Zero, a team of activists who put forward a plan to resolve racial injustice in America, highlighted in their policy proposal. Understanding the interconnectedness of these issues, they argue, is central to coming up with a solution. And that's exactly what Warren appeared to do—recognize that these issues are not mutually exclusive.

"The first civil rights battles were hard fought. But they established that Black Lives Matter. That Black Citizens Matter. That Black Families Matter. Half a century later, we have made real progress, but we have not made enough progress," Warren concluded. "As Senator Kennedy said in his first floor speech, 'This is not a political issue. It is a moral issue, to be resolved through political means.' So it comes to us to continue the fight, to make, as John Lewis said, the 'necessary trouble' until we can truly say that in America, every citizen enjoys the conditions of freedom."

Share your opinion

Do you support the Campaign Zero reforms put forth by Black Lives Matter?

No 18%Yes 82%