Why is #BlackLivesMatter going after Hillary Clinton, and what must she do? The goal is to make sure that she incorporates racial justice, criminal justice and the agenda of black people into their policy platforms. Being a Democrat simply is not enough, as Hillary — like Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley — must prove she believes black lives matter.
On Friday, Clinton was interrupted by #BlackLivesMatter protesters during a rally at the historically-black Clark Atlanta University. She had been joined at the event by Congressman John Lewis, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Usher and others. At the event, Clinton announced a criminal justice reform agenda, including a call to end racial profiling by law enforcement and to eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine. Further, she vowed to remove barriers for convicted felons in the workplace, including a promise to “ban the box” for federal employers and contractors.
#AUCShutItDown, an Atlanta group affiliated with Black Lives Matter, said they protested the rally to have Clinton address issues impacting the African-American community, especially policing. “Unfortunately, rhetoric DOES NOT save us, nor does it give confidence to black voters that we can trust Hillary to prioritize the necessity of ensuring our safety,” the group said in a statement. “We’ve been waiting for weeks to see the platform that addresses these issues from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. We will wait no more.”
The Clinton event comes as the black-led movement has written a ColorofChange petition addressed to DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz demanding a #BlackLivesMatter-themed presidential debate. Noting that black women vote at a higher rate than any other group, the petition says: “Those of us who (reluctantly) give our votes to the Democratic Party deserve more robust forums on issues of particular concern to our communities, at home and abroad.”
And at a Wednesday campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, the candidate said she is not in favor of abolishing the death penalty — an unjust form of punishment with origins in slavery and lynching, rife with abuse, corruption and racism, and which targets the poor, people of color and the innocent. Blacks and Latinos are more likely to oppose the death penalty than whites, while whites who associate blacks and Latinos with crime are more likely to favor the death penalty.
Hillary believes executions should be rare and considered for the most egregious crimes, making her the only Democratic candidate in favor of capital punishment. Clinton, who once helped save a black man from death row, later became “tough on crime” and supported the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, which gave billions of dollars to build prisons, had a “three strikes” policy with mandatory life without parole, and enabled the mass incarceration of black people.
#BlackLivesMatter wants more than rhetoric; it wants substance. And realness. It is no accident that it targets Democratic candidates rather than the GOP field. This is a common primary election tactic among outsider activist groups. In fact, the strategy is a practice similar to lobbying known as “power mapping” — going after the politicians most similar to you on an issue, having them articulate their position, and holding them accountable. The Republican Party — some of whose leaders have condemned the movement as advocates for cop killers and those who celebrate murdered police officers — is largely hostile territory.
The whites who inherited the progressive legacy of the Democratic Party have become accustomed to a labor-oriented, economic inequality analysis that has failed to view the world through a racial justice lens. Black folks have been the afterthought for Democrats, with policies that could benefit African-Americans but did not necessarily have them in mind or seek their input.
However, Black Lives Matter has pushed the Democratic field in the direction of racial justice in 2016. The party, needing heavy black voter turnout, must embrace this new movement. Caring about black lives means realizing that an inherently racist system will require more than tweaking and that the death penalty — the tip of the criminal justice iceberg, which so many white politicians have manipulated for political gain — cannot be fixed and must be abolished. This will only make Hillary a better candidate.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.