Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls Ben Carson, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley will discuss criminal justice policy at a forum in Columbia, South Carolina later this month.
The 2015 Presidential Justice Forum is being organized by the 20/20 Leaders of America, a bipartisan group of black mayors, police officers, and other leaders. Each of the candidates vying for the Republican and Democratic nomination was invited to participate in the event, which will be held Nov. 21 at historically black Allen University. BET will livestream the forum, and Jeff Johnson will moderate.
Co-Chair Ashley Bell said the 20/20 Club felt that criminal justice was the "premier issue" in the black community heading toward the 2016 election. During the question and answer session, he said organizers hope to hear what sort of progress each candidate would commit to in their first term on issues such as the militarization of police and community policing.
"These issues have not gotten a fair shake in the public discourse," he said.
He added the group was continuing to talk to other candidates, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, about participating along with O'Malley, Sanders, and Carson.
"We're hoping the rest of the candidates follow their lead," Bell said.
Facebook is among the sponsors of the event, and anyone can submit questions on criminal justice and policing through the 20/20 Club Facebook page.
“The conversation about the 2016 election is happening on Facebook, and a huge part of that is a discussion of criminal justice issues,” Crystal Patterson, politics and government outreach manager at Facebook, said in a statement. “Facebook is pleased to be the title sponsor of the 2015 Presidential Justice Forum, not only to help bring more attention to the issue of criminal justice reform, but also to help connect voters around the country with the candidates participating in the event.”
He addd it was important for the group to invite candidates from both parties. By incorporating questions from Facebook, he said he hopes the candidates learn about the perspective of young black Americans.
"To the black community, this is not about partisan politics," he said. "It's bigger than that."
Last month, Black Lives Matter activists called on the Democratic National Committee to focus a debate on issues including police violence in black communities. Bell said the 20/20 Club has been working on their event for about six months, and he hoped it would draw attention from a broad section of the black community.
"We need all stakeholders at the table," he said.
The group focused on Allen University to host the event following the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Three of the victims had ties to the university.
"This was a fitting place to have a conversation about race and politics in this country," Bell said.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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