Politics

Everything You Need to Know About Hillary Clinton's "Black Lives Matter" Problem in 10 Minutes

Leading Democratic presidential contender sloughs off complicity in mass incarceration, tells protesters they need to figure things out.

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Not long ago, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) got squeezed off the stage by a couple of Black Lives Matter protesters. He was also heckled at a various other events for supposedly being insufficiently mindful to the problems of African Americans.

Say what you will about Sanders, but at least he's a consistent opponent of many drug-war and mass-incarceration programs. Not so with Hillary Clinton, who is leading the Democratic field for the party's 2016 presidential nomination.

Whatever lip service she pays toward equal rights, the Twitter feed of @BlackLivesMatterBos argues, "she has also repeatedly called for more police & tougher prison sentences."

The group points to a post from Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown:

Good magazine has just posted two videos totaling little more than 10 minutes that suggest Clinton is extremely uncomfortable with the issues being raised by Black Lives Matter.

Rather than deal forthrightly with the protesters, she gives an obtuse history lesson about past social movements and the ways in which they combined grievances with specific pieces of legislation they wanted passed.

Sean Davis at The Federalist transcribes part of the encounter:

"The piece that's most important, and I stand here in your space and I say this as respectfully as I can," Julius Jones, one of the activists, said to Hillary Clinton, "but if you don't tell black people what we need to do, then we won't tell you all what you need to do."

"Well, I'm not telling you," Clinton responded. "I'm just telling you to tell me."

"What I mean to say is that this is and has always been a white problem of violence," Jones continued. "There's not much that we can do [as black people] to stop the violence against us."

That's when the conversation got awkward.

"Respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems," Clinton snapped back, eliciting a wide-eyed look of horror from Daunasia Yancey, the founder of Black Lives Matter in Boston who was standing directly to Hillary Clinton's left.

Jones is alluding to the findings of the Kerner Commission, which was convened in the wake of race riots in the 1960s. The commission controversially affixed most of the blame to white racism rather than black pathology:

Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget--is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.

You can disagree with that assessment—plenty have, for sure, and I think it robs blacks of meaningful agency—and still acknowledge the ways in which a morass of laws, policies, and practices combine to make life far, far more difficult for African Americans than white Americans.

Anyone interested in Clinton's semi-floundering campaign and her engagement with grassroots activists should take a look at these two videos. Lord knows that the Republican Party, with the exception of Rand Paul, doesn't seem interested in engaging the problems of black Americans, but between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton's unease with activists, there's a strong case that neither do the leading Democratic candidates for president. Blacks are great when they are a reliable, 90-percent-plus voting bloc for Dems, but kind of off-putting when they ask tougher questions.