As Black Lives Matter continues its polarizing push onto the presidential campaign scene, a bipartisan group of black mayors, city councilors and community leaders is set to offer presidential candidates an alternative to the activist group’s “antagonistic approach.”
“To have a serious conversation about criminal justice reform, community policing, the militarization of police, the oxygen is being taken up by a group that doesn’t understand what it’s going to take to actually make this happen,” Ashley Bell, the Republican co-chairman of the 20/20 Club, says of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bell’s group, which he co-founded earlier this year, is scheduled to host a presidential forum at Allen University Nov. 21-22 in hopes of creating a space for candidates of both parties to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Because so far, as the 34-year-old Bell, a former Georgia county commissioner, pointed out in an interview with The Daily Caller, Black Lives Matter has controlled the conversation using fiery rhetoric more in the mold of Malcolm X than Martin Luther King, Jr.
Organizers associated with Black Lives Matter have shouted Democratic candidate’s Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders off stage at campaign events for stating “all lives matter.” They’ve also attempted to disrupt Hillary Clinton, who subtly criticized the group in a face-to-face meeting last month for its aggressive approach. (RELATED: Clinton Accused Of ‘Victim-Blaming’ During Tense Black Lives Matter Meeting)
“The DNC just released this resolution about Black Lives Matter, but Black Lives Matter kicked it right back at them,” says Bell, referring to the Democrats adopting a resolution recognizing the activist group last month, only to have the activist group reject it.
Republicans have not yet been directly targeted on the campaign trail, but activists have vowed that it will happen.
That’s not to mention the violent innuendo that underlies much of the group’s public demonstrations. A day after a sheriff’s deputy in Texas was executed while pumping gas last month, Black Lives Matter protesters in St. Paul, Minn. were filmed chanting “pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon.” (RELATED: Black Lives Matter Organizer: ‘Pigs In A Blanket’ Chant Was Just ‘Playful’)
“Black Lives Matter, they’re attacking everybody,” claims Bell, who switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP in 2010. “Their approach is one where they’re not trying to make any friends. They’re not trying to have a conversation of substance with anybody.”
He said that as “noble as it may have started,” Black Lives Matter “hasn’t done justice to what so many of us felt that our grandparents and our parents went through in the ’60s.”
Bell, who has thrown his support behind Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, says that he got the idea for the 20/20 Club earlier this year amid the violent unrest in cities involved in national police brutality cases.
“We saw America in turmoil. We saw every night in different cities and for different reasons, on fire,” Bell says, referring to the violent riots that unfolded in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray.
“20/20” in the group’s name marks its goal of enacting putting a plan of action on criminal justice reform in place by the end of the next president’s first term, 2020.
To accomplish that, the club has brought on several high-profile community leaders, including Compton, Calif. Mayor Aja Brown, Dallas deputy police chief Malik Aziz, who is also the chairman of the National Black Police Association, and Baltimore city councilman Nick Mosby. Mosby is also the husband of Marilyn Mosby, the prosecutor trying the six officers in the Freddie Gray case.
Other members include city councilmen from New Orleans and Boston, the mayors of Augusta, Ga. and Columbia, S.C., as well as the chief prosecutor of San Francisco.
Bell says his bipartisan group has extended forum invitations to all presidential candidates. The location of the event, Allen University in Columbia, S.C., carries significance as well. The historically black institution is the alma mater of Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina state legislator and pastor who was among nine people murdered in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June by a white supremacist.
In terms of the group’s work so far with presidential candidates, Bell said that O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore and former governor of Maryland, reached out to the 20/20 Group to hold a listening session after his disastrous run-in with Black Lives Matter protesters at the conference where he was shouted off stage in July.
“He’s all over it,” Bell said of O’Malley’s enthusiasm in working with the group. The same can’t be said of Bernie Sanders, according to Bell. He says a request to engage Sanders has been “sent up the ladder” but that the Vermont senator has yet to respond.
“We’re kind of surprised,” Bell said of the non-response.
He said that some 20/20 Group members with strong Democratic ties have reached out to Clinton’s campaign to take part in the forum.
On the other side of the aisle, Bell said that he’s had a positive response from Republican candidates Ben Carson, Paul, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina.
Bell sees the forum as more of an opportunity for the GOP, given that the party is often automatically viewed with skepticism on matters of race.
“This is going to be one of the few opportunities for Republican presidential candidates to have a place for ideas that will not be hostile,” Bell said. “Many times it’s hard for our Republican candidates to break through, especially with African-Americans voters, because they don’t have a venue in which they can display their ideas.”
“What we’re creating here is a unique marketplace.”
Elroy Sailor, an adviser to Rand Paul, said the Kentucky senator, who is perhaps the Republican most vocal about criminal justice reform, has made a commitment to speaking to the 20/20 Club. He added that an appearance at the forum in November will hinge on scheduling.
But Sailor endorsed the 20/20 Club’s approach, calling it “transformational.”
“This group is seeking to educate and inform people from the African-American community, from my community, whereas lots of times the goal is to say ‘vote for this person,'” he said.
“I think they’ve taken the model from Martin Luther King, who once said ‘a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.'”