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The first question posed to tonight's Democratic debaters via YouTube asked, "Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?"

How the frontrunners handled the question gave us our first spontaneous look at how they're likely to speak about the movement as the race for the Democratic nomination intensifies.

Senator Bernie Sanders, whose ability to connect to the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been questioned, was the first to respond—with a resounding endorsement.

Sanders singled out Sandra Bland's suspicious death while in police custody as a prime example of how institutional racism is a key issue all the candidates should focus on.

"The reason those words matter is the African American community knows that on any given day some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she's going to end up dead in jail, or their kids are going to get shot," Sanders said. "We need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system "In which we have more people in jail than China."

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Momentary internet fan-favorite Governor Martin O'Malley agreed that #BlackLivesMatter was making a "very, very legitimate and serious point." He went on to describe how he was personally affected by witnessing many young, black men die while he was running for mayor of Baltimore.

"We were burying over 350 young men every single year," he said. "Mostly young, and poor, and black."

"I said to our legislature, at the time when I appeared in front of them as a mayor, that if we were burying white, young, poor men in these number we would be marching in the streets and there would be a different reaction."


Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the sentiment that criminal justice reform is a major issue, but she also insisted that reform wouldn't be enough to curtail the systemic brutality being committed against black people. Clinton described her ideal solution as a "new New Deal."

"We need to be committed to making it possible for every child to live up to his or her god-given potential," Clinton elaborated. "That is really hard to do if you don't have early childhood education or if you don't have schools that are able to meet the needs of the people, or good housing."

Senator Jim Webb made his answer more about himself than his views on #BlackLivesMatter, citing his long history of working with "the situation of African Americans."


"I risked my political life raising the issue of criminal justice reform when I ran for the Senate in Virginia in 2006," Webb insisted. "I had democratic party political consultants telling me I was committing political suicide."

Former Republican turned Democratic Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee did not get a chance to answer the question.