Republicans aren’t the only ones using their convention to tell a tale of a dangerous and violent America.
Democrats called the GOP gathering a dark vision – full of fear-mongering in the words of one Democratic fund-raising pitch. But the Democrats also used their convention this week to showcase victims of violence and their families.
While both parties agree that violence is a problem, they disagree on the nature of the danger, and the solutions.
The Democrats’ message on violence was punctuated Wednesday with speeches by Felecia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, two survivors of the shootings at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015 that the left nine people dead.
“No one should feel how we feel, how we’ve suffered,” Sanders told the convention Wednesday inside a hushed Wells Fargo Center.
Also taking the stage were survivors of the shooting rampage at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, in which 49 people were killed.
Tuesday night featured the Mothers of the Movement, African-American women who lost sons or daughters to gun violence or after encounters with law enforcement.
If we don’t talk about concrete solutions, it’s just rhetoric and pandering.
a Democratic convention delegate from Chicago
The women – who include the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland, are backing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and campaigned with her in South Carolina and other states during the primaries.
“The convention is a grand stage,” said Florida state Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Democratic convention delegate who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. “It would have been a disservice to the diversity of this crowd not to have these people speak, to have some sort of display.”
Christine Leinonen, mother of Pulse shooting victim Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, brought delegates to tears with her story of loss and her calls for gun control.
Leinonen was a Michigan state trooper when she went into labor with her son and recalled that the hospital “put my off-duty gun in a safe.”
Retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelley, husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot and severely injured in a January 2011 attack, told the audience that “gun violence that is tearing so many of our communities apart.”
Several speakers at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland also shared their stories of loved ones lost to violent encounters. In the cases highlighted by the GOP, most of the perpetrators were immigrants who entered the United States illegally.
“My son’s life was stolen at the hands of an illegal alien,” said Mary Ann Mendoza. Her son, Mesa, Arizona police Sgt. Brandon Mendoza, was killed in a 2014 head-on car collision in Phoenix. The driver of the other car was in the country illegally and wasn’t deported after a criminal conviction in Colorado. “It’s time that we have an administration that cares more about Americans than about illegals, putting all our children’s lives at risk.”
The fear of violence also is being used as a fund-raising tool.
Democratic officials sent out an email under Sen. Cory Booker’s name Wednesday accusing Republicans of “fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric” at their convention and asking for donations ranging from $3 to $100.
“We’ve already seen so many great Americans speak,” Booker, D-N.J., says in the solicitation. “I can’t wait to watch the rest of the week unfold and feel the growing unity in the room – unity in support of our values, and unity against Donald Trump’s toxic rhetoric.”
The delegates inside Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center loudly chanted “Black lives matter” as the movement mothers took the stage. Republican delegates inside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena chanted “Blue lives matter,” a supportive nod to law enforcement, and “All lives matter,” a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Republicans and Democrats look at violence “through different lenses,” said Jesse Jannetta, a senior research associate for the Urban Institute.
The recent fatal shootings of African-American men by police in St. Paul, Minn., and Baton Rouge, La., and deadly attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge have served to harden those differences, Jannetta said.
“There isn’t a consensus,” he said. “There’s a lot of contested opinion between the parties and within the parties about the issues and policy solutions.”
South Carolina state Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-S.C. a delegate and Clinton supporter, said it shouldn’t be a question of whether you side with law enforcement or those who say they’re being victimized by police.
The first step is to acknowledge that there is a problem.
“There is nothing new here,” Mitchell said after listening to the Mothers of the Movement. “But we have to be willing to address it.”
Bree Maxwell, 31, president of the South Carolina Young Democrats, took a harder line, accusing Republicans of using the fear of violence to politically demonize the Black Lives Matter effort and to pander to the party’s base voters.
“I think the Democratic Party is being more serious on policy issues and solutions,” she said, pointing to congressional Democrats’ efforts for increased gun control measures.
Bullard said Democrats aren’t fear mongering on the issue of violence, adding that he hopes the messages from the speakers “will go beyond words.”
South Carolina state Sen. Margie Bright Matthews agreed, calling the speeches from the Emanuel survivors thought-provoking.
“We wanted to make sure that we let them know that South Carolina and Charleston stand with them, and we forgive,” she said, invoking the phrase that relatives of victims in the Emanuel shootings used when they addressed the man arrested for the act. “But we want something done with guns in the United States.”
McClatchy’s Steven Porter contributed.