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'Black Lives Matter' Activists Disrupt Presidential Forum at Netroots Event

The crowd booed after O'Malley, a Democratic presidential hopeful, said that all lives matter. He later apologized.

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley arrived at the annual Netroots Nation convention hoping to impress some of the party's most influential liberal activists. Things didn't exactly go as planned.

Demonstrators protesting cases of police brutality and the treatment of black Americans by law enforcement disrupted a presidential forum Saturday as O'Malley, a former Maryland governor, was interviewed on stage. The group later heckled Sanders.

The raucous scene unfolded when a large group of protesters streamed into the convention hall chanting, "Black lives matter!" As O'Malley and interviewer Jose Antonio Vargas looked on, one of the group's leaders took over the stage and addressed the audience as the largely female group of demonstrators railed against police-involved shootings, the treatment of immigrants and Arizona's racial history.

Image: Martin O'Malley, Jose Vargas, Tia Oso
As dozens protesters shout, Tia Oso of the National Coordinator for Black Immigration Network, center, walks up on stage interrupting Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, right, as moderator Jose Vargas watches at left, during the Netroots Nation town hall meeting, Saturday, July 18, 2015, in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin / AP

Before departing, O'Malley told the convention: "Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter," prompting some heckles and boos in the crowd.

He later apologized at an immigration event. "I meant no insensitivity by that and I apologize if that's what I communicated," he told reporters. "That was misstated. What I intended to say was that we're all in this together — that black lives do matter and we have a double-standard of justice in this country."

Sanders tried to address the roughly 3,000 Netroots activists as many of the protesters shouted at him and disrupted his remarks. At one point, Sanders said: "Black lives of course matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and if you don't want me to be here, that's OK."

During an abbreviated 20-minute appearance, the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont spoke about the need to address wealth and income inequality, noting that blacks and Hispanics face high rates of unemployment. Sanders was scheduled to meet with representatives of the organization Black Lives Matter after the speech, but his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, attended the meeting instead, spokesman Michael Briggs said.

Sanders later addressed police brutality at a large rally Saturday night, telling a crowd of more than 11,000 it is unacceptable for young black men to be beaten and killed while walking down the street.

"When a police officer breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable," Sanders said. He later quoted the 19th century black abolitionist Frederick Douglass: "Freedom doesn't come without struggle."