African-American Leaders Say Killings of Black Men Highlight Need for Black Woman VP, But They Don't Dismiss Elizabeth Warren

The high-profile killings of black men in recent weeks have ramped up the pressure on Joe Biden to pick a black woman as his vice-presidential running mate, with Senator Kamala Harris and former Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams mentioned most often.

The increased spotlight on the VP pick comes as Americans and the black community have reeled from the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and George Floyd in Minnesota. Arbery was shot and killed in February after being chased by two white men, with arrests being made only when footage was released months later, and Floyd died Monday after a police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes.

Groups and black leaders also say Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is white, has worked with them on issues affecting the community and hired black women during her campaign—necessary work, they say, that allows her to be included in the conversation as a choice who would help with Biden's blind spots, including race.

"We hope as they continue the vetting process they will select someone who will shore up those blind spots, particularly when it comes to the African-American community," NAACP President Derrick Johnson told Newsweek.

"We understand that the current political landscape must change, not only for democracy to survive, but for protection of the African-American community," he added.

Some leaders pointed out how hard the black community has been tested in recent weeks responding to the pandemic, which has disproportionately infected and killed African-Americans, and now are mobilizing because of the deaths of unarmed black men. While Biden overwhelmingly captured the black vote in the primary, black leaders remain weary of his gaffes and wary of the campaign talking a big game on African-American outreach, particularly, they said, when there is so much work that still must be done amid the inflamed racial climate in the country. Becky Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association, for example, broke down when discussing Biden's selection with Newsweek during this climate.

"As a mother of a black son who had to have that talk as he is in tears worrying about his son, who is only 7 years old, it's too personal," she said. "It's too much."

But Biden, leaders said, could make great strides with the community and avoid the mistake Hillary Clinton during her failed election: choosing a white vice presidential nominee.

Angela Rye, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post in May calling on Biden to choose a black woman as his vice president to pay back the black community for resurrecting his primary campaign.

They told Newsweek that choosing a black woman would show lessons were learned from the 2016 choice of Tim Kaine, who they argue was uninspiring to the base of black voters.

Choosing a black woman, Rye said, sends a message that "'I see you as a valuable ally and partner in this.'"

"It no longer says "I'm going to take your votes and do better for you than you can do for yourself, but I'm going to involve you in setting the agenda and moving bodies to the polls and keeping black people engaged,' and not just two weeks before the election," she added.

Some national black organizations and African-American leaders have strongly called for Biden to choose Harris or Abrams, while others have sought to be careful and not box in the former vice president. And while black leaders have largely dismissed Senator Amy Klobuchar as a nonstarter for vice president, the same is not the case with Warren. They said Warren made their issues front and center during the campaign, while hiring black women in positions of power.

A Morning Consult poll named Warren Wednesday as the candidate who would have the highest positive impact with voters for the ticket, including the highest numbers with black and Latino voters. The poll found that 24 percent of black voters would be more likely to vote for Biden if he chose Warren, followed by 19 percent for Harris, and 17 percent for Abrams.

"Whether its Abrams, Harris, or Warren, these are people that have spent years building relationships working on these issues," said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. Abrams, Harris, and Warren have all appeared on his Facebook Live show "The Black Response."

"I've had conversations on racial justice and the future with all of these people for years now and have worked with them and their staffs on engaging them on policies," he said.

In a Newsweek editorial, called "Warren as a Running Mate Would Make Biden Unstoppable in the Midwest," former Michigan candidate for governor, Abdul El-Sayed, argued Warren's case for energizing progressives, but acknowledged what a black woman as vice president would mean for the country.

"Though I believe Warren makes the strongest case, both Harris and Abrams would make exceptional vice presidents as well," he wrote.

Advisors for Harris, Abrams, and Warren declined Newsweek's request for comment about the vice-presidential speculation.

New York Representative Gregory Meeks, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, said it would be "great to have a black woman," but added that it was "very significant that Biden has decided he will put a black woman on the Supreme Court."

The Biden campaign declined to comment, but a campaign aide who was not authorized to speak publicly offered a statement about the deaths of Floyd and Arbery.

"The video of George Floyd yesterday and Ahmaud Arbery a few weeks ago are just exhausting and very traumatic," the aide said. "The VP spoke out on both of them and will continue to do so and addresses what he would do as president in many of his plans and also on the trail."

Biden was the choice of black voters during the primary, earning six in 10 votes in some states, and seven in 10 in others. But he has also been called out for being overfamiliar in his remarks about African-Americans. He was criticized for a gaffe last week during a Breakfast Club radio interview, when he said "you ain't black" if you can't decide between him and President Trump. But Robinson said more concerning than Biden's comments, was his defense of the 1994 crime bill he authored, which has been panned by communities of color as a driver of mass incarceration.

"At the end of the day, you want someone who motivates our people and when they get the role they remember your name and know-how to call you and know that you matter," Robinson said of Harris, Abrams, and Warren. "How people treated you before their name was floated is the best way to determine that."

kamala harris Elizabeth warren
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) looks on as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern University's Health and PE Center on September 12, 2019, in Houston, Texas. Win McNamee/Getty Images/Getty