02:32 - Source: CNN
Protesters disrupt Jeb Bush event

Story highlights

This week has seen a significant increase in Republican candidates responding to the protesters

Members of the movement have said Republican candidates have failed to grasp the issues raised

Washington CNN  — 

Democratic presidential candidates this summer have repeatedly met activists of the “Black Lives Matter” movement on the campaign trail – often with disruptive results. But this week, it was the Republicans’ turn.

Several candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and even real estate mogul and field front-runner Donald Trump, all faced questions about the movement, which among other objectives seeks to draw attention and advocacy to police brutality against African-Americans.

Black Lives Matter protesters began chanting as Bush exited a town hall Wednesday in North Las Vegas after the former Florida governor answered a question about racial inequality.

Trump criticized Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Tuesday for giving up his microphone to protesters at an event in Seattle.

“That will never happen with me,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will, but that was a disgrace.”

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the sole African-American presidential candidate among Democrats and Republicans, told a group Wednesday that protesters were “creating strife.”

“Of course black lives matter,” Carson told local politicians and business leaders in Harlem. “But what I feel, instead of people pointing fingers at each other and just creating strife, what we need to be talking about is how do we solve problems in the black community. Of murder, essentially.”

And Ohio Gov. John Kasich told CNN Wednesday about his previous work improving the relationship between Ohio police and black communities.

“All lives do matter – black lives matter, especially now, because there’s a fear in these communities that justice isn’t working for them. But it’s about balance,” he said.

Protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter, a grassroots activist group founded after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, have most visibly been focusing on Democrats. Some members of the organization have said Republican candidates have failed to grasp – and thus appropriately respond to – the issues raised by the movement.

This disparity was on display last month, when O’Malley apologized for telling Phoenix protesters that “all lives matter,” a comment that was seen as minimizing the challenges of African-Americans.

Soon after, Bush criticized O’Malley for apologizing.

“I know in the political context it’s a slogan, and should he have apologized? No. If he believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn’t apologize to a group that seemed to disagree with it,” he said.

Some Republicans have tried to appeal to the African-American community and some of the issues raised by the movement. Sen. Rand Paul has an informal group of black advisers that help him communicate how his conservative fiscal policies address criminal justice and civil liberties. And Kasich has spoken about the need for police officers to be more aware of issues impacting black communities.

“At the heart of it is an ability to give people a sense that the system is not rigged against them; that they, in fact, can be hopeful; that in fact, America can work for everybody,” he previously told CNN.

The black vote and 2016

For Democrats, securing the black vote is critical to winning the White House.

“The challenge for all Democrats now is not raw emotion – but hard math. For Democrats to win the White House in 2016, African-Americans must give 90-95% of our votes to that party’s nominee. Not 50+1% of our vote. Not even 75%,” former Obama adviser Van Jones wrote in a CNN op-ed this week. “To put another Democrat in the White House, black folks must be practically UNANIMOUS in our support for a Democrat.”

Republican candidates may not feel the urgency to respond to the movement because they don’t need the black vote as part of their strategy, he said.

“Some argue that the #BlackLivesMatter movement should focus its fire on Republicans. But the GOP generally does not pretend to be a champion of the economic underdog,” he wrote.

Prominent activist Deray McKesson, agreed, saying he is not surprised that some Republicans have not embraced the concerns of the movement.

“There will always be people who will work to protect the status quo,” he told CNN.

But the issues the Black Lives Matter movement are raising are key ones that all presidential candidates need to address, Joshua DuBois, former head of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told CNN this week.

“You don’t have to agree with every statement or tactic of every activist in the very broad Black Lives Matter movement, but we have to agree that they are putting some critical issues on the table,” he said. “Issues like police brutality and criminal justice reform and implicit bias. We wouldn’t be talking about this if it wasn’t for Black Lives Matter.”

Meet the faces behind #BlackLivesMatter