The first Republican presidential debate of 2016 took place in North Charleston, South Carolina, where the black population is 47.2 percent. Last April, an unarmed black man named Walter Scott was shot to death by a police officer in the city. The incident was caught on camera by a passerby and gained national attention.
But the Republican candidates did not discuss Walter Scott, nor the economic hardships facing black residents in North Charleston. They didn’t discuss many of the issues facing black Americans anywhere in America for that matter.
Donald Trump said police were “the most mistreated people in America.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich went out of his way to tell the audience (to cheers!) that he worked closely with Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Senator famous for his pro-segregation views. “I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen,” said Thurmond in 1948. “That there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”
Only once were the shooting deaths of nine black Charleston churchgoers last year invoked by the moderators. The topic: gun control. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was asked, in light of that tragedy, whether or not there should be tighter gun restrictions. Bush acknowledged the compassion of the victims’ families, who forgave the shooter in the days after the shooting. “They showed by the grace of God forgiveness,” he said. Gun control, however, was not up for debate—Bush, like all the other candidates, rejected calls for any new safety regulations.
Though he didn’t mention black Ohioans specifically, Kasich did talk about a task force he assembled back in his home state to improve community and police relations. “They sat down as a group and began to heal between community and police,” he said. Kasich listed some of the recommendations of the task force: recruiting and hiring, as well as doling out more resources for training.
Kasich stressed the need to improve “integration” between community and police. The governor insisted that “people need to understand” police want to go home at night and be with their families.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.