BERKLEY, Missouri— Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson, the lone African-American candidate in the race for 2016, said the Black Lives Matter movement that has harangued politicians on both sides of the aisle is too limited in scope.
"My beef with the Black Lives Matter movement has been, I think they need to add a word. And that word is 'All.' All Black Lives Matter," Carson said after a visit with community leaders and politicians just miles from Ferguson, Missouri, where the movement took hold after a white police officer shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last summer. "Including the ones that are eradicated by abortions, including the ones that are eradicated on the streets every day by violence. We need to be looking at all the factors that have kept the black community in a very dependent position for decades."
During an hour-and-a-half closed-door meeting, Carson said that he very well could have ended up like Brown, alluding to his formative years growing up with a single mother in a poor neighborhood in Baltimore, according to Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who spoke before Carson and attended the meeting.
Carson later told reporters that he was touched after hearing the story of a businesswoman who worries about the fate of her three sons, adding that it recalled memories of his own upbringing. Carson's mother often worked two and three jobs and often wouldn't get home until after midnight, he said.
“We were on our own,” Carson said. “And she must’ve been so worried about what could have happened to us.”
In recent months, Carson has done a delicate dance around matters of race and politics, at once breaking with fellow Republicans in pointedly calling out race as a factor in recent killings of unarmed African-Americans, but also saying too many people view life circumstances through a racial lens.
On Friday, Carson took a riding tour of Ferguson, ground zero for sometimes-fiery protests and clashes since Brown's death. Brown’s killing and a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who shot him sparked a nationwide movement calling for police accountability and justice for unarmed blacks who are disproportionately killed by police.
After the shooting massacre at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June, Carson wrote in an op-ed, “Not everything is about race in this country. But when it is about race, then it just is.” He added, “I understand the sensitivities. To some, calling the events in Charleston, S.C., a hate crime reinforces a stigma, which they have fought hard to put behind them. But refusing to call it what it is — racism — is a far more dangerous proposition.”
In late August, in another op-ed, Carson was critical of Black Lives Matter protesters, who he said were right to be angry but needed to be smarter.
“Of course, the protesters are right that racial policing issues exist and some rotten policemen took actions that killed innocent people,” he wrote. “But unjust treatment from police did not fill our inner cities with people who face growing hopelessness.”
Carson added far too many young people can’t find jobs, that parents don’t have adequate job skills and that too many families are “torn and tattered by self-inflicted wounds. Violence often walks alongside people who have given up hope.”
This message often co-exists alongside up-by-the-bootstraps rhetoric that has vexed protesters and progressives who say it offers convenient cover for an unfair system.
On Friday, the soft-spoken Carson tip-toed up to that line. "I think a lot of people perceive everything through racial eyes," he said. Instead of focusing just on race, Carson said there needs to be a greater discussion around education, which he called the “great divide.”
Carson said there’s a “trillion dollars of assets in the black community,” a pool of resources larger than all but about 10 countries in the world with an annual budget of a trillion dollars.”
“I mean, it’s an enormous amount of resources. We need to be talking about how you turn those resources over in your own community to create even more and reach back and pull other people up,” he said. “We need to be talking about out-of-wedlock births and what that does to a woman’s educational possibilities and what it does to that child,” he said. “[It] makes them four times more likely to grow up in poverty, to end up on Welfare or in the penal system. Until we begin to address these issues, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Carson said it was important for him to talk with folks who had been impacted by the events in Ferguson.
"I heard more than one time how the thing that really inflamed the community was the fact that Michael Brown's body laid out on the street for four hours. I think a lot of people understood that he had done bad things, but his body didn't have to be disrespected," Carson told reporters after the closed-door round-table discussion.
Carson’s visit comes a day after fellow Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump bashed the renowned neurosurgeon as just an “OK doctor” of questionable faith. On Friday, Carson refused to address Trump's jabs other than to tell NBC News' Ron Allen, "Well, I am an OK doctor. I'm constantly amazed at the things that were able to be done. I praise the good lord for them."
Carson added in the interview, "I'm not going to get into the mud pit, and you know if people want to attack me and say horrible things about me, that's fine, I'm not going to get back into the mud pit with them. Whether it's a winning strategy or not, that's who I am, and you know, I don't talk about people, I just don't do it."
Carson’s poll numbers have surged in recent weeks, placing him second behind Trump in national polls.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, who took part in the meeting, said he’s issued an open invitation to all of the presidential candidates, Republican and Democrat, to come to Ferguson as part of the broader discussion of mending race relations in America.
Pastor Doug Hollis, who attended the round-table meeting, said it was a much appreciated good faith show by Mayor Knowles and Carson.
“We’re really trying to bring peace, we’re trying to come together as one with the police department, the mayor and all the politicians,” said Hollis, who identified himself as both a conservative Republican and a Ferguson protest leader. “Carson said some great things that I really kind of loved that he said. It’s just not a one sided story, it’s the side of the ones acting out and the side of the police. I love him for just having the heart to come to Ferguson.”
While there were no Black Lives Matter protesters in the meeting, Carson said that he'd be willing to talk with them. Mayor Knowles pointed out that while there were no official Black Lives Matter protesters in the meeting, there were a few people in the meeting that had taken part in Ferguson protests.
“Other than knowing some of the organizations that they represent, I really didn’t know any of the people in that room,” said Beverly Jones, a community leader who joined the protests. “We’re sitting at a Ferguson round table and not knowing how these people are connected to Ferguson. Where have you all been, because we’ve been in the streets.”
Jeniece Andrews, a Ferguson business owner whose store was damaged during a night of rioting after the grand jury’s decision in the Brown case, said she was touched by Carson’s visit.
“I was touched that he and his wife cared to come back to our community and to show that there are good people of compassion. And I think that we should pay attention to people, that’s what people want, they want to know people care about them,” Andrews said. “They showed that compassion. Just to see that they care about our situation, about my business and the other businesses that are here, it was really touching.”