Today, at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, there will be a presidential candidate forum taking place specifically focusing on criminal justice reform and “the disproportionate impact of law enforcement on black communities.” In case you need that translated for you, it’s basically a Black Lives Matter forum. But the description of a forum for presidential candidates is going to wind up being somewhat misleading because what it’s largely missing is… presidential candidates. A grand total of three of them are going to be there and none of them are named Trump or Clinton. (Washington Post)

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, the two major party front-runners, is scheduled to appear. And of the 14 candidates vying for the Republican nomination, only Ben Carson has agreed to show up to discuss what is a major concern for many black voters. The cable network Black Entertainment Television, a co-sponsor, will stream the event live.

The sparse participation by candidates underscores the question of whether the issue has gotten the full attention of the 2016 field despite several highly publicized incidents, including one last month in Atlanta when activists chanted for 15 minutes while Clinton described her plans for criminal justice reform.

Instead, the debate that has roiled the country for three years has often been reduced by some to whether candidates are willing to utter the three words that have come to symbolize the movement: “Black lives matter.”

Carson is going to show up, but I somehow doubt that he’s going to get much of a warm reception regardless of the fact that he’s the lone black candidate in the GOP field. He spent a fair amount of the summer calling BLM everything from silly to sickening and has refused to mouth the standard platitudes that the protesters are demanding (and usually getting) from all the Democrats. As for the rest of the Republican field, they’re sticking with “All Lives Matter” when they comment on the topic at all and have generally disapproved of the group’s disruptive and frequently hostile tactics toward police officers.

Hillary’s history with BLM has been “complicated” to say the least. She wound up having a meeting with some protesters in August, but only after they’d been locked out of one of her events. Whatever she said at that get-together clearly wasn’t enough to appease everyone, since they were back protesting another of her events only a few weeks ago.

How could we forget this charming moment of political history?

The group did manage to rope both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley into showing up. In the latter’s case, that’s not terribly surprising because his poll numbers don’t tend to get him invited to much of anything these days. I’m sure he’s just happy for the camera time. But his history as the Mayor of Charm City and the governor of Maryland will come back to haunt him since he really wasn’t the poster child for their concerns when he was in charge of things back home.

Why Sanders is showing up is something of a mystery in one regard. His own experiences with the group thus far this year are fairly well captured in a single photograph.

SandersBLM

Still, if Bernie Sanders somehow believes he’s got a shot at winning this thing, it’s probably going to come from the black vote in the Democrat primary. Hillary’s support among black voters as of early October had plunged from an all time high in the seventies to only 31 percent last month. If Sanders is willing to show up and take whatever abuse may be coming his way today, that may play well among that segment of their base and provide a stark contrast to the surrogate that Clinton sent in her place.

The event is supposed to be broadcast on BET in case you want to catch it, but as of this morning the Time Warner Cable guide in my area isn’t reflecting that. Might be regional decision.