Washington (CNN)Bernie Sanders is building his outreach to African-Americans, a voting bloc that has overwhelmingly supported his chief Democratic rival.
Bernie Sanders courts black voters in Ebony interview
In an interview with Ebony magazine published Monday, Sanders said that he plans to take his campaign message to black communities across the country to tout his strong record on civil rights and his proposals to lift up low- and middle-income Americans, which he said "are actually more relevant to the black community."
"When I say we need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, that's going to impact the country but it will impact African-Americans even more. When I talk about pay equity for women workers, it will impact all women but it will impact African-American women even more because they are more discriminated against and their wages are even lower than white women," Sanders said.
Sanders' interview with the magazine is the latest effort Sanders has undertaken in his uphill battle to shore up support from a group that is leaning toward Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. And it comes as he's enjoying a series of campaign successes, including attracting 20,000 people to a rally in Boston this weekend along with strong polling in New Hampshire and a fundraising quarter that appears competitive with Clinton.
Still, the former secretary of state's coalition of support -- including strong support from the black community -- has kept her as a clear national front-runner for her party's nomination.
While he won the endorsement of prominent civil rights activist Cornel West this summer, Sanders has also at times struggled to connect with the Black Lives Matter movement. Activists with that movement disrupted a Sanders event in Seattle, seizing the podium from Vermont senator.
And earlier this summer, Sanders faced heckling from activists at the progressive Netroots Nation conference, nearly leaving the stage as the protesters continued to shout over his voice.
Sanders said that he has since had several meetings with Black Lives Matter activists, which he said "have all been very productive."
Sanders conceded in the Ebony interview that he is "from a state that is overwhelmingly white" and "running against somebody whose husband is very popular in the African-American community" -- a reference to former President Bill Clinton. But Sanders insisted that his record and message "will all make sense" to black voters.
And while both Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nod, have taken heat for once saying "all lives matter," Sanders said he understands the power of the new civil rights movement's slogan.
"Many white people are not sensitive to the kind of abuse that African-Americans, especially younger African-Americans, receive at the hands of police officers and police departments. I think for most whites their experience with the police has been good or neutral because they don't interact with the police as much as those in the black community," Sanders said.
He also touched on the case of Sandra Bland, the black woman who died in police custody after she was arrested during a routine traffic stop.
"Clearly if Sandra Bland, who was a middle class black woman, had been a middle class white woman, it is unlikely that the police would have treated her in the same way," Sanders said.
"Unarmed African-Americans have been abused and sometimes killed while in police custody. Clearly these are issues that must be dealt with and changed," Sanders also said.
Sanders said he would tackle criminal justice reform to reverse both sentencing and economic inequalities facing black communities. He touted his work to propose a $5 billion jobs program for young people with Rep. John Conyers, a black Democratic congressman from Michigan.
Sanders proposed taking "a hard look at the war on drugs," reevaluating mandatory minimum sentencing and also said police departments should reflect the communities they serve, particularly if those communities are primarily composed of minorities.
"I also know that there is an enormous amount of disgust in the African-American community with regards to certain police departments. We need to demilitarize local police departments so that they do not look like occupying armies. We want police departments that look like the communities they are serving," Sanders said.