Why Is the Debate Asking About ‘Race and Violence in Our Cities’—But Not Racist Violence?

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Sep 29, 2020

The first of two presidential debates take place tonight (September 29) in Cleveland. And when it does, moderator and “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace will ask about “race and violence in our cities,” the Washington Post reported today (September 29). 

Following months of unrest across the nation in response to the back-to-back destruction of Black lives—Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Daniel Prude, among those recently killed or seriously injured by law enforcement—systemic racism and police violence will be debated once again by two white men in their 70s. Wallace, who will ask the question, is also a white man who’s older than 70. While the Post posits various ways that both President Donald Trump (R) and former Vice President Joe Biden (D) could succeed at answering correctly (Trump: don’t be racist; Biden: show humanity), they note in a separate article that asking about violence and not racial justice “suggests Trump’s framing of Black Lives Matter as an inherently violent movement.”

The women’s advocacy group UltraViolet said as much in a statement last week when it condemned Wallace’s question as perpetuating a “racist narrative in the midst of police violence.” In the statement, UltraViolet’s communications director, Bridget Todd, said the Commission on Presidential Debates should have never approved the question and demanded that they immediately strike it from the list of debate topics. 

Todd also wrote:

You know the pervasiveness of white supremacy runs deep if in 2020, at a time when the majority of Americans support the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Commission on Presidential Debates can’t even put out a list of topics without advancing anti-Black messaging and dog whistles that play right into Trump’s racist narrative.


This highlights how important it is to have the voices of women, Black people and people of color involved in our national conversations. In response to demands by gender equity and justice organizations including UltraViolet, TV networks and the DNC agreed to have at least one woman of color moderate each Democratic primary  debate. The Commission on Presidential Debates needs to make that same commitment.

To better help the media and journalists spot and avoid “unintentional sexist and racist bias or disinformation” when reporting, UltraViolet and several organizations launched the “Reporting in an Era of Disinformation: Fairness Guide for Covering Women and People of Color in Politics.”

The NAACP, which released a statement of condemnation yesterday, wrote: 

The mischaracterization of what transpired in this country over the last several months, creates a false and dangerous narrative around what democracy looks like in America. … The poorly veiled attempt to shift the public discourse and scrutiny away from the cause of the peaceful protest is a tactic to deceive people about the origin of the violence and where it is directed.

And it’s just not just national organizations that are calling this debate topic out.