Video from Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Black Lives Matters activists last week in New Hampshire has been released, showing an at-times tense exchange in which the Democratic presidential candidate was accused of “victim blaming.”
Clinton also referred to herself and other whites as “us sinners” during the Aug. 11 meeting with the activists, which was held after Clinton’s speech at a campaign event in Keene.
The group, which consisted of five members of the Black Lives Matter Boston branch, showed up late and were unable to enter the at-capacity venue. But the Clinton campaign arranged for a 15-minute meeting. The activists requested that no members of the media be present, opting instead to film the exchange with Clinton themselves. GOOD Magazine published video of the encounter.
Standing toe-to-toe with the former secretary of state, Julius Jones, an organizer with the group’s Worcester branch, told her that she and former President Bill Clinton have been “more responsible than most” for funding mass incarceration in the U.S.
While in office, Bill Clinton enacted harsher prison sentencing measures, built more prisons and hired more cops. Black Lives Matter has blamed that legislation for contributing to the relatively high imprisonment rates for blacks.
Jones asked Clinton to reflect for him on “what in [her] heart has changed” since she and husband Bill supported those laws.
In a brief moment of tension, one of Clinton’s handlers interrupted the conversation to say that the candidate would soon have to end the meeting. Jones pleaded, saying that he and the other organizers had traveled far to confront her on the issues.
Members of other Black Lives Matter chapters have confronted several other candidates. Those encounters went much differently than the organized meeting with Clinton. Last weekend, members of the Seattle chapter stormed the stage at a Bernie Sanders campaign event, forcing the Vermont U.S. senator to leave.
In her encounter with the activists, Clinton was more forceful. While she indicated she supported the group’s overall efforts, she criticized some of its strategy.
“The consciousness-raising, the advocacy, the passion, the youth of your movement is so critical, but now all I’m suggesting is, even for us sinners, find some common ground on agendas that can make a difference right here and now in people’s lives,” Clinton said.
A second video from the exchange shows a more heated discussion.
“If you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what you need to do,” Jones said to Clinton.
“I’m not telling you, I’m just telling you to tell me,” Clinton shot back.
“This is and has always been a white problem of violence. There’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us,” Jones responded as Clinton interjected.
“If that is your position, then I will talk with only to white people about how we are going to deal with very real problems,” she said.
“What you just said was a form of victim-blaming,” said Jones, eliciting a grimace from Clinton. “You were saying what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to is change white hearts is to…”
“I don’t believe you change hearts,” Clinton said. “You change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”
She argued that if the focus is only on changing hearts, little will get accomplished and “we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation.”
Jones and Daunasia Yancey, who also took part in the exchange with Clinton, appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show on Monday night to review the confrontation.
Jones said that while he believed that the “encounter was good” because it moved the conversation about race in the U.S. to a newer level, he thought that Clinton “was also ducking personal responsibility for the role that her and her family played” in mass incarceration.
Yancey said that she wasn’t satisfied with Clinton’s responses.
“What we’re looking for from Secretary Clinton is a personal reflection on her responsibility for being part of the cause of this problem that we have today in mass incarceration,” Yancey told Melissa Harris-Perry, who was filling in for Maddow. “So her response really targeting on policy wasn’t sufficient for us.”
Of the encounter at Sanders’ campaign event in Seattle, Jones sided with the activists and claimed that the response from Sanders’ supporters who were critical of the display was evidence that a “covert anti-blackness” exists among white progressives.