I continue to believe that election season brings out the worst in everyone. Uncritical support for deeply compromised politicians turns everyone into a hypocrite, hedging and justifying when their chosen candidate is caught being immoral or unethical, while simultaneously attempting to vilify their opponent for their lack of morals and ethics. Meanwhile, the complex issues and debates that shape our national politics get reduced to talking points and sound bites, points to be earned or lost in the latest polls. It is at once all-consuming, deeply boring, and important—insofar as electoral politics can produce any real change.
But there are moments that, if we look hard enough, can remind us what is truly at stake.
Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was killed by two Cleveland police officers in 2014, wrote a brief statement published to Medium explaining “Why I Have Not Endorsed Any Candidate.” While a number of highly visible parents of those killed by police and vigilantes have made endorsements and hit the campaign trail, Rice has elected to skip the pageantry.
“No one has been held responsible for any part of this entire traumatic experience,” she wrote. “No one has at least apologized for killing my son. Not a single politician has offered me some substantial support.”
“Twelve year old children should never be murdered for playing in a park,” she continued. “But not a single politician: local, state or federal, has taken action to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
That Samaria Rice felt compelled to write these words is one piece of a larger tragedy, but also a sober reminder that no one election, and no one presidential candidate, will bring about the sort of change that would have saved Tamir.
It’s not that presidents don’t directly impact criminal-justice policy and policing procedure—they do. And they can wield profound influence in shaping national moods and consciousness about race and racial justice. But there is no anti-racist candidate in the mix who offers a program of eliminating or radically altering the institutions that uphold white supremacy in America. This is especially true on the Republican side, but it’s the reality on the Democratic side, as well: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders fail to represent any new hope of eradicating institutional racism.
This isn’t to suggest that a Democratic or Republican presidency for the next four years would be exactly the same. But in terms of fighting racism, the prevailing ideology—making the current system a bit less harsh—would remain intact. Though blatant racism has become politically costly (though Donald Trump is proving it may still be viable), elected officials and candidates, en masse, have yet to face consequences for not being sufficiently opposed to institutional racism. Instead, they’ve been rewarded for crossing what’s ultimately a pretty low bar: acknowledging that racism exists.