The only presidential candidate to seemingly even acknowledge last week’s police shooting that killed an unarmed Black grandmother in Texas has made that controversial death the centerpiece of a new campaign ad. Bernie Sanders released his new commercial on Facebook this week, but it was unclear if he was using Pamela Turner’s death for political gain or to express genuine concern for Black lives — or both.
Turner was gunned down in suburban Houston by Baytown Police Officer Juan Delacruz on the night of May 13 under suspicious circumstances. The 45-year-old grandmother of three reportedly had previous run-ins with Delacruz. They lived in the same apartment complex and Delacruz allegedly knew Turner suffered from mental illness. Baytown police said Delacruz approached Turner because she had open warrants, but lawyers representing Turner’s family said that was a lie. The entire dealy episode was recorded on video by a bystander.
Sanders first brought attention to the shooting on Sunday when he tweeted a video of his senior adviser and former Ohio Sen. Nina Turner speaking about it at a campaign event.
“There is something wrong in this country when black men and black women can’t get the same justice as everyone else,” Nina Turner said in part on the video.
Sanders wrote that “Pamela Turner should be alive today,” adding that Nina Turner “is right.”
The Vermont senator has previously been somewhat ambiguous when it comes to advocating for Black lives, in particular, preferring to emphasize “all lives” instead.
That uncertain stance dating back to at least the 2016 campaign coupled with racial blunders in the recent past — remember when he said that white people who didn’t vote for Stacey Abrams in the 2018 midterm elections “are not necessarily racist” because they felt “uncomfortable” voting for a Black candidate? — made it unclear what exactly he was trying to accomplish with the new commercial.
In April, Sanders was accused of squandering an opportunity to make inroads with Black women voters when he was asked during a presidential forum about his plan to stem the rise of white nationalism. The Vermont senator’s familiar refrain that he once marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. elicited groans, jeers and boos, suggesting the audience wanted to hear new talking points instead of those from the 2016 election.
BlackPAC, which describes itself as “an independent, Black-led organization that uses the power of year-round political engagement and elections to change our economic, justice, and political systems,” released a new poll on Tuesday that found Sanders in second place for support from Black voters among presidential candidates. And while Sanders’ name carries heavy recognition for better or for worse, “Name identification, which is driving support for candidates at this point, will be insufficient for decisively winning the Black electorate –and subsequently, securing the nomination. Candidates must use this critical window to define their campaigns around these concerns,” BlackPAC Executive Director Adrianne Shropshire wrote about the new polling data.
Pamela Turner’s funeral was Thursday and the wounds left in the greater Houston area were still raw as many people were demanding answers. By using footage from her police killing — an offense that has seemingly gone unpunished as Delacruz returned to work on Monday — Sanders could be seen as stoking the flames of racial tension, or he could be seen as trying to douse them.
That said, it was a topic that literally every other presidential candidate from any political party has seeming strayed from and not addressed. That went for Texas’ own Beto O’Rourke, who previously voted for an anti-Black Lives Matter bill when he was in Congress. So at the very least, Sanders deserves some points for touching what others haven’t even gone near.
Watch the commercial below and let us know what you think.