Christie Loses Black Supporters in NJ Over Comments on 'Black Lives Matter'
In the wake of Gov. Chris Christie's comment that the Black Lives Matters movement calls for the killing of police officers, his support among African Americans in New Jersey, which he worked so hard to secure in his first term in office, is fading.
In July 2013 Christie held a press conference at the Statehouse to announce that Bishop Reginald Jackson, the leader of a prominent Essex County church and one of the most politically powerful black voices in the state, would endorse him for reelection. He was one of 22 black ministers to endorse the governor, the campaign said at the time. The endorsements were likely part of the reason why Christie went on to win 21 percent of the black vote -- a huge increase from 2009, and extraordinary for a modern-day Republican.
But last Sunday, Christie may have poisoned his relationship with New Jersey African-Americans.
Christie was on CBS's "Face The Nation" when he made an argument that has become central to his candidacy: That President Obama has encouraged "lawlessness" in the country. Then he added a new example of such lawlessness -- the Black Lives Movement, which was created in response to recent high-profile deaths of black people at the hands of police officers. Christie said Obama shouldn't give credence to a group that is "calling for the murder of police officers."
The movement identifies itself non-violent, and Jackson said he was "disappointed" and "disturbed" by Christie's remarks.
"My immediate perception was that the governor was trying to play to the base of the far-right of the Republican party," Jackson said this week. Congregants have called Jackson to complain about the comments -- and pointedly remind him that he endorsed the governor. "It's really just in this campaign that I’ve seen this side of the governor."
As Christie made his argument, "Face The Nation" host John Dickerson pushed back:
"I don't believe that that movement should be justified in calling for the murder of police officers," Christie said. "But they're not calling for the murder of police officers," Dickerson said. "Sure they are, sure they are. They've been chanting in the streets for the murder of police officers." "Well, individuals have, but the Black Lives Matter is not - - " "Well, listen John, that's what the movement is creating."
Christie's argument is not unfamiliar to those who watch Fox News, which has been sounding the alarm about Black Lives Matter for months. Organizers of the group may say they want to peacefully find ways to end racial profiling and the excessive use of police force, but on Fox News, Black Lives Matter is often called an anti-police movement -- or a “murder movement” -- endorsed by Obama.
As Fox host Bill O'Reilly recently put it: "This is a radical group that calls for violence against police officers."
To support the allegation that Black Lives Matter supports cop killers, the network often shows clips of a protest over the summer in Minneapolis, where marchers chanted for police "pigs" to fry like "bacon."
And they cite this chant from New York City in 2014: "What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!"
Reporters found the latter clip actually came from a different group at what was likely a separate protest. But as conservative media took up the anti-Black Lives Matter cause, Republican presidential candidates have followed suit.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky criticized the movement by saying that all lives matter, and earlier this month Senator Ted Cruz of Texas went further. "If you look at the Black Lives Matter movement, one of the most disturbing things is more than one of their protests have embraced rabid rhetoric, rabid anti-police language, literally suggesting and embracing and celebrating the murder of police officers," he said.
Christie's comments, though, are among the strongest against the group by any candidate to date.
In New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP condemned Christie’s remarks. The Black Lives Matter movement says it doesn’t support violence of any kind. When questioned by The Record of Bergen County, Christie's spokeswoman pointed to a statement in the same interview saying that bad cops need to be prosecuted.
Another black minister who was listed by the Christie campaign as endorsing him in 2013, Pastor Linda Ellerbe, said she never officially endorsed the governor but did support him. Would she back him again, this time for president? "Oh my," she said.
Ellerbe called Christie's comments "undereducated" and "ill-advised." Black Lives Matter, she said, "is a call to end violence and I don't think that's fully understood by persons who are not African American." She said the establishment is threatened by strong black voices, just as they were by Martin Luther King.
"Our governor has a history of saying things that are not fully thought through, he just has a propensity to just speak things without I believe thinking about the ramifications of what he's going to say," Ellerbe said.
At the same time, she understands his perspective as the former US Attorney for New Jersey. "He's a prosecutor," she said. "He's out to get the bad guys."
And that's why Christie's statement has resonated -- positively -- in New Hampshire, the early primary state where Christie has focused his presidential campaign. Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard, who has endorsed Christie for president, saw the "dead cops" protest chant on Fox News and agrees with the governor that the Black Lives Matter movement is a threat to law enforcement. He said cops are more at risk today than they have been in decades, and the Obama Administration is partially responsible for that.
The sense that police officers are under threat is felt in New Hampshire, he said, and he worries that young people won't even choose to go into law enforcement.
"It's a leadership role that all of our presidential candidates should be standing up and saying," Hilliard said. "Gov. Christie is the first one who has the courage to do it."
Hilliard believes that Christie's experience -- as a US Attorney fighting terrorism and as a governor working to reduce street crime and the recidivism rate -- will resonate with voters.
"And believe me, a lot of my friends who haven’t made decisions about who they’re going to support in this next election," Hilliard said, "I am making sure they hear Chris Christie is the guy standing up for us, and for society."