After Alton Sterling shooting, candidates’ vacuous platitudes

alton sterling

Two Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officers tackled Alton Sterling, a black man, and shot him while pinning him down, all of which was caught on a graphic video. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating. The candidates’ responses are revealing — Gary Johnson and Bernie Sanders made short, substantive statements, while Hillary Clinton’s longer release is 87% platitudes.

Because candidates want to show sympathy for the victim without condemning police, candidate statements after an event like this tend toward bullshit. Here’s what they said, sorted in order from most meaning to most bullshit.

Gary Johnson: “Looks like murder”

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson called it what it was — an apparent murder — in an interview with Buzzfeed News, and suggested figuring out what works in police forces with fewer shootings:

“I heard, ‘He’s got a gun.’ Well, what does that mean?,” Johnson told BuzzFeed News. “If there was no display of a gun, if he didn’t have it in his hand…if his hand wasn’t being suppressed, I don’t get it. I mean, that’s murder.”

Johnson said he did not believe in a use-of-force standard across local, state, and federal agencies was the answer to decreasing police shootings. “That would be a one-size-fits-all and would be somehow [b]e determining how police protocol should occur.”

A better answer? More innovation.

“I’d be in the camp of highlighting a police force in a given city that has the least amount of shootings. What are they doing? This ought to be the model for everybody to be looking at.”

Bernie Sanders: Investigate as a matter of policy

Bernie Sanders’ response was a single tweet, but one that might actually create change.

Hillary Clinton: Platitudes

Hillary Clinton issued a 202-word statement in which only 26 words were meaningful and substantive rather than generalities or platitudes. This is a pathetic 13% meaning ratio (regrettably, what we’ve learned to expect from politicians). Here’s the statement, with the meaningful words highlighted.

The death of Alton Sterling is a tragedy, and my prayers are with his family, including his five children. From Staten Island to Baltimore, Ferguson to Baton Rouge, too many African American families mourn the loss of a loved one from a police-involved incident. Something is profoundly wrong when so many Americans have reason to believe that our country doesn’t consider them as precious as others because of the color of their skin.

I am glad the Department of Justice has agreed to a full and thorough review of this shooting. Incidents like this one have undermined the trust between police departments and the communities they serve. We need to rebuild that trust. We need to ensure justice is served. That begins with common sense reforms like ending racial profiling, providing better training on de-escalation and implicit bias, and supporting municipalities that refer the investigation and prosecution of police-involved deaths to independent bodies. All over America, there are police officers demonstrating how to protect the public without resorting to unnecessary force. We need to learn from and build on those examples.

Progress is possible if we stand together and never waver in our fight to secure the future that every American deserves.

Donald Trump: resounding silence

Here’s what Donald Trump said:


This non-statement speaks more eloquently about him than all the other candidates’ words combined.

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  1. Disagree with you on this one. There is always a first time! I don’t read Hillary’s statement as platitudes but as a statement of human empathy, which reads better to me than terse, cold political statements. You found that this empathetic statement contained plenty of meat, so that should satisfy your predilection for content.

    1. Alton Sterling’s death is a tragedy. So what is she going to do about it?

      It’s bad when black people aren’t treated like people. Really?

      We need to rebuild trust between police departments and communities. No shit.

      Sorry, Eric, but if I were black, I don’t think these oft-repeated platitudes — with no actual changes — would satisfy me.

      If you want things to change, you have to change them, not just sympathize.

  2. All three statements fall short in one way or another.

    Mr. Johnson appears to disregard demographic and historic differences between jurisdictions. What works here may not work there. “Murder” is a word with specific, legal meaning and emotional weight. It looks like a crime, but does it cross the boundary between homicide/manslaughter and murder?

    Sen. Sanders’ tweet is limited in length, but do we want to jump straight to the Federal level for every police-involved death?

    Sen./Sec. Clinton makes assumptions that may alienate her intended audience. Yes, it’s a tragedy, but that’s not a synonym for crime. Was there a time in American history when there was bi-directional trust between the African-American community and law enforcement? If so, when?

    I distrust over-simplified statements. We must leave room for nuance and complexity in political discourse, but we need to shift the balance between meaning and bullshit.