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Does Black Lives Matter influence US elections?

November 2, 2020

A movement against police violence could help motivate more Black people to go to the polls. That would not likely be to Donald Trump's benefit.

Black Lives Matter is written on the America fla
Image: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

It is a cold and windy Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky. A few hundred demonstrators have turned out to take part in a memorial march for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black medical worker who was killed in her home by police during a botched raid in March. "Say her name," they call out, "Breonna Taylor!" It is one of the chants for justice employed by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Keturah Herron, a juvenile justice policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union in Kentucky, walks down the street, her fist in the air and a hoodie pulled up over her head. On her black mask are the words "Justice for Breonna Taylor."

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Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, wears a facemask as she listens to a press conference about her daughter's death
Tamika Palmer (right) has protested since police killed her daughter in springImage: Darron Cummings/dpa/picture-alliance

After months of nationwide protests, and ahead of the US presidential election on November 3, the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Louisville also have a political message — one shared by many other activists across the country: Vote Donald Trump out. The demonstrators on Louisville's streets all agree that the president is a blatant racist who has praised the armed white supremacist militias who often show up to confront protests against police violence, but refused to condemn police violence against Black people. After an officer paralyzed an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August, a 17-year-old Trump supporter shot three demonstrators protesting police brutality, killing two. Though a video of the violence was already circulating, Trump jumped to the teen's defense, alleging that the shooter had been fighting off attackers.

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Anti-Trump protesters thold up signs as media take photos and record video in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on September
Protesters met Trump when he visited Kenosha in the wake of demonstrations for racial justice Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Ngan

High voter turnout

Many young Black Americans are also critical of Trump's Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden. A survey published in September found that Biden had the support of fewer than 70% of Black voters aged 18 to 29, and though fewer than 10% supported Trump, a surprisingly large number remained undecided. According to a New York Times nationwide poll of likely voters, Biden had 90% support within the Black electorate overall, and Trump had just 4%.

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A young man holds his hands in the air as police stand guard
With their hands up, activists confront police in KentuckyImage: Bryan Woolston/Reuters

In August, thousands attended the 2020 March on Washington to demonstrate against police violence in Black communities. Many demonstrators stood outside the White House and mocked the president, as well.

The demonstration commemorated Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington, the historic civil rights gathering where he delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech, demanding equal rights for all. Some of the participants said the year 2020, with the racial disparities among victims of the coronavirus pandemic and the protests against police violence, has shown just how little actually changed since King gave his speech 57 years ago.

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A person wearing a Black Lives Matter banner stands amidst a crowd in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the August 2020 March on Washington
People from across the US participated in the 2020 March on Washington for justiceImage: DW/C. Bleiker

"Real change is not being committed," a young demonstrator said. "I personally think that we have a president that is evoking the white racist and the racial tension to come out."

'What's at stake'

Biden will need the support of Black voters on election day, which is one of the reasons why he chose Kamala Harris, whose father came from Jamaica and mother was from India, as his running mate. Yet this alone is not enough for voters such as TS. The young man is standing shirtless in his front yard in Compton, a city in Los Angeles County, California, with a reputation for a high crime rate.

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris hold hands in front of a giant American flag while wearinmasks
Harris became the first Black woman nominated for vice president by a major US partyImage: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

TS said he planned to vote for Trump, who he knows is not good for the "Black cause."

"But he is the man with the money right now," TS said. "He wants our country to make money, and he knows how to make money."

Black people who vote Republican for economic reasons will not change their minds, said Robert Patterson, professor for African American Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He predicts that the election will come down to voter turnout, and he sees the Black Lives Matter movement as a major contributor to the mobilization of African American voters. "Black people will support Biden," he said. "They will get their friends, cousins, and will turn out. They will definitely turn out in numbers grander than 2016, because they understand what's at stake. People that have taken a chance on Trump will not this time around."

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Back in Louisville, Herron is ready to cast her ballot. When Barack Obama became the first Black president, she believed for a short while that real change would take place in the United States. She said she had realized that even more is on the line today for Black people: "It's the most important election of our lives."

This article was adapted from the German.

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