Hillary Clinton was in Philadelphia, Pa. last Wednesday to talk about criminal justice reform. The Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State has been gaining momentum since her victory at the New York primary election, where she won 139 delegates.
Mrs. Clinton discussed the need for criminal justice reform alongside former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and community leaders at the St. Paul’s Baptist Chruch. The mother of Sandra Bland—an activist whose death in a Waller County, Texas jail cell received worldwide attention—Geneva Reed-Veal was also present at the forum.
Clinton listened to the stories of Marie Hamilton, Tanya Brown, and Nicole Bell, who all lost relatives to gun violence. The former United States Senator from New York had been vocal about gun ownership and sales regulations in past debates with Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. During a visit to the Grace Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. last Sunday, Clinton told the congregation that “guns are not the answer to anything.”
The proliferation of guns has been a critical issue in African American and Latino communities for many decades. In the 1980s, the rise of crack cocaine distribution and addiction throughout impoverished districts across the country correlated with an increase in gang violence.
We have problems in the criminal justice system that have led to the over mass incarceration of too many people
Hillary has a long track record of establishing relationships within the African American and Hispanic communities. In 1972, Hillary and Bill Clinton worked in San Antonio, Texas managing George McGovern’s presidential campaign, where Hillary talked with black and Hispanic voters. Afterwards, she taught at the University of Arkansas School of Law, specializing in constitutional and criminal law. She also set up a legal clinic in Arkansas and advocated for prison system reform.
However, Mrs. Clinton had a number of missteps and stumbles in forging a strong relationship with the African American community. This relationship was recently highlighted when a Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist challenged the Democratic candidate in February while campaigning in South Carolina. A young Charlotte-based activist confronted Clinton about a comment she made during a speech in 1996, in which the then-First Lady referred to specific criminal youth as “super-predators.”
The term was interpreted as referring to young African American males. Clinton stated, “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators’…No conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
During her visit at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa. Clinton stressed that the country has “problems that we need to address in policing and accountability for policing.” Some critics of Clinton, both within the GOP and among her African American constituents, claimed that the Democratic candidate used rhetoric to sway voters, but has not done much in terms of actual change.
“We have problems in the criminal justice system that have led to the over mass incarceration of too many people — predominately African American and Latino — and we have the epidemic of gun violence which is stalking our country from small towns to large cities. No place is immune,” said Clinton to the congregation.
Whether or not Hillary Clinton will take the practical steps to address reform in the criminal justice system will be one of her biggest challenges as a politician. If she is elected as President, the renowned law scholar will have to do more than talk or woo her constituents — she has to back up her words.