Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton had an at-times tense meeting with Black Lives Matter activists last week, bluntly telling them they are not going to “change every heart.”
Last week, a group of activists met privately with Clinton following a speech in New Hampshire, after they showed up late to an event where they planned to confront her.
They pushed her to address her role in supporting legislation signed by President Bill Clinton that increased incarceration of African-Americans.
“Now that you understand the consequences, what in your heart has changed that’s going to change the direction of this country?” activist Julius Jones asked Clinton.
Clinton acknowledged that some of the laws her husband signed had massively increased incarceration of black Americans, but said that it was an unintentional consequence of an effort aimed at curbing the prevalence of drugs and violence that also disproportionately plagued minority communities.
“I do think that a lot of what was tried and how it was implemented has not produced the kind of outcomes that any of us could want,” she said. But she added that she thinks “there was a different set of concerns back in the ’80s and early ’90s.”
But tension between Clinton and the activists grew after Clinton made suggestions for how the activists should proceed as a movement.
In her trademark managerial style, Clinton transitioned from her husband’s record to asking the activists to give her specific policy proposals to reduce violence against black Americans. She cited the civil-rights movement and the LGBT-equality movement as examples of ways that activists turned grassroots passion into legislation.
Jones immediately pushed back, saying that Clinton should not “tell black people what we need to do.”
Here’s a transcript of their exchange:
Jones: “I say this as respectfully as I can, but you don’t tell black people what we need to do. And we won’t tell you all what you need to do.”
Clinton: “I’m not telling you — I’m telling you to tell me.”
Jones: “What I mean to say is this is and has always been a white problem of violence. It’s not — there’s not much that we can do to stop violence against us.”
Clinton: “Well if that — “
Jones: “And it’s a conversation to push back — “
Clinton: “OK, OK. I understand what you’re saying — “
Jones: “Respectfully, respectfully — “
Clinton: “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 — “
Jones: “That’s not what I mean.”
Clinton left after about 10 minutes of talking with the activists.
The meeting highlights the disconnect between Clinton and some of the members of the movement, which has repeatedly challenged fellow Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). The “Black Lives Matter” movement also confronted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) last week.
Clinton aggressively sought policy proposals, and candidly said that “you’re not going to change every heart. … But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems.”
But activist Daunasia Yancey told MSNBC after the interview that she was “looking for a personal reflection,” and said that Clinton’s response “really targeting on policy wasn’t sufficient for us.”
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