Bernie Sanders: 'I'm not dismissive' of 'Black Lives Matter'

Story highlights

  • Sanders cites MLK Jr.
  • Sanders says involved in civil rights whole life

Washington (CNN)Bernie Sanders said Sunday he sees racial injustice as a major problem, just one week after arguing on stage with "Black Lives Matter" protesters at a liberal gathering.

In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," the Democratic presidential contender continued to cast the challenges minorities face as primarily economic.
"I'm not dismissive," he said. "I've been involved in the civil rights movement all of my life, and I believe that we have to deal with this issue of institutional racism."
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    Sanders, a Vermont senator, pointed to Martin Luther King, Jr., saying the civil rights leader "understood and was working on a poor people's march" when he was assassinated. He pointed to soaring unemployment figures for young African-Americans, and blamed an "unsustainable level of income and wealth inequality."
    His comments came after Sanders shouted down "Black Lives Matter" protesters who disrupted his remarks at the Netroots Nation gathering in Phoenix. Sanders said he doesn't disagree with their message, but was irritated with being interrupted.
    Reaching minority voters is a key hurdle for Sanders to cross if he is to mount any type of significant challenge to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Sanders has fared much better in recent polls among white, liberal, college-educated voters than he has with the rest of the Democratic electorate.
    Sanders also defended his views on gun rights, saying he supports laws that mandate background checks for gun buyers and would ban the sales of some guns, despite hailing from a rural state with few gun control laws.
    Asked about why laws already on the books haven't stopped mentally unstable Americans from obtaining firearms, Sanders said: "Then we've got to make them stronger and we've got to make them more enforceable, that's what we've got to do."
    Throughout the interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, though, Sanders continued to pivot to the issue on which he is most comfortable: economic inequality.
    "We are having working people who are saying that it is absurd that almost all new income and all new wealth is going to the top 1%," he said.