US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 9, 2016. / AFP / POOL / JIM BOURG        (Photo credit should read JIM BOURG/AFP/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on Oct. 9, 2016.

Photo: Jim Bourg/AFP/Getty Images

A striking absence at tonight’s debate, held only a few miles away from Ferguson, Missouri, was the question of black lives that Ferguson protesters put on the national map after the police killing of Michael Brown in August 2014. There was no discussion of policing, racial bias, and racism in law enforcement.

Where black people — not lives — were discussed, it was in vague and condescending terms, as when Trump said he wants to help “the” African-Americans, or when he answered a black man’s question about whether he would be “everyone’s president” by immediately talking about “the inner city” (because apparently Trump thinks that’s where all African-Americans live — and that it’s hell). It got even worse when Trump asked, referring to “the” African-Americans in the inner city presumably, “What do they have to lose?” 

St. Louis and Missouri have been at the forefront of the country’s soul searching on racial justice issues. While Clinton only briefly referred to voting rights tonight, she didn’t mention that Missouri is currently fighting against one of the most insidious attacks against voting rights in the country — mostly the voting rights of black and poor citizens.

From Ferguson to the Mizzou protests, Missourans have done much to advance the conversation about racial justice in America. The fact that tonight, in St. Louis, that was barely acknowledged was a missed opportunity and a sign that presidential politics is way behind the movement on the streets.