Lancaster Online
By Orson Aguilar

The 2016 presidential campaign is proving historic in many ways both good and bad. Among the good: the amount of attention being paid to the issue of racial justice.

This didn’t occur spontaneously, of course. Constant pressure from Black Lives Matter, immigration activists and others played a big role. But the degree to which some top candidates have paid attention to racial justice and adopted platforms related to the issue exceeds anything in recent memory.

On the Democratic side, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have extensive sections on their campaign websites dedicated to racial justice. Both include detailed proposals and state explicitly what many minorities know to be true: that the American playing field is not level and works to the disadvantage of communities of color.

Clinton, for example, pledges to “end the school-to-prison pipeline” by providing funds to help school districts move away from punitive policies like suspensions, expulsions and on-campus police presences that disproportionately hurt students of color. She also takes note of pollution-related asthma rates, lead exposure and other environmental issues that disproportionately harm communities of color.

Sanders, on his website, focuses on “the five central types of violence waged against black, brown and indigenous Americans: physical, political, legal, economic and environmental.” His platform goes in-depth on improving relations between police and communities of color, promoting greater diversity, training and civilian oversight in cases of misconduct. Like Clinton, he condemns racially disproportionate rates of school suspensions and expulsions and speaks out against environmental racism.

But all that just scratches the surface. Both Democrats delve into racial injustices with far more detail than any presidential candidate I can remember, including Barack Obama in 2008. While candidates have always taken positions on issues that have racial implications, like immigration, what we’re seeing this year is unique and encouraging.

A search of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s website turns up nothing regarding racial justice. The closest he gets is his get-tough stands on illegal immigration, including a border wall and ending birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. The story is much the same for the last two GOP alternatives to drop out of the race, Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

That’s sad.

The Republican Party, after all, played a crucial role in ending slavery and putting civil rights protections into the Constitution. A century later, Republicans provided the votes needed to pass the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. The party has a long and honorable history it should not abandon. There is no reason Democrats should own the racial justice agenda.

Still, racial justice has entered the presidential campaign in a far more detailed and nuanced way than we’ve ever seen, even during the civil rights battles of the 1960s. That’s progress, and it should be just the start.

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