Video of Clinton’s tense, awkward, revealing meeting with Black Lives Matter released

Following highly-covered disruptions of Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders (twice), members of the Black Lives Matter movement promised that they would be pushing every major presidential candidate to lay out their plan to address racial injustice and police brutality. The decentralized movement has since seen members go to events for Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, disrupting Bush and meeting with Clinton after being directed to an overflow room at her event by the Secret Service (they arrived after Clinton had entered the building, at which time the Secret Service, per their protocol, sealed the room).

Bush’s campaign later lied about meeting with the members of the movement.

Last night, Good Magazine released video of Clinton’s meeting with Black Lives Matter – Boston representatives. And while their conversation was amicable, it was awkward. Here’s the first segment, with Clinton fielding a question from activist Julius Jones:

This part of the exchange is awkward, to say the least. After nodding through an incredibly measured, nuanced question about white supremacy in American culture that asked Hillary Clinton to personally reflect on mistakes she has made and continues to make regarding racial justice in America, Clinton pivoted to a pre-packaged answer about kids before telling the Black Lives Matter movement what tactics she thinks they should take, all while avoiding the question itself:

Once you say that this country has still not recovered from its original sin, which is true, the next question by people who are on the sidelines, which is the vast majority of Americans, is ‘So, what do you want me to do about it?’ I’m trying to put together in a way that I can explain it and I can sell it, because in politics if you can’t explain it and you can’t sell it, it stays on the shelf.”

She then contrasted Black Lives Matter with the women’s and LGBT movements, pointing out that those earlier movements had plans — be they legislation or litigation — that she hasn’t heard from Black Lives Matter, which has made a point to ask presidential candidates to produce plans (like this one) to address racial injustice.

In short, she answered “What have your mistakes been, and how can we learn from them?” with “Here are your mistakes, and how you can learn from me.”

And it only got more tense after that:

Without directly saying that she didn’t answer his question, Jones followed up by reiterating that he wanted to hear from Clinton something more specific relating to her plan to address white supremacy and violence against black people, saying “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.”

At which point Clinton cut him off, saying “Respectfully, if that’s your position, then I will only talk to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems.”

When Jones called Clinton out for her answer being “a form of victim blaming,” Clinton finally, perhaps for the first time on the campaign trail, dropped her act. With a visibly different posture, tone and pace, she responded:

Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way system operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But, at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems to create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them…You may be able to change some hearts, but if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in ten years having the same conversation.

This is perhaps the most genuine answer anyone could have hoped to get from Clinton, who, at bottom, is a pragmatist of the highest order. She has clearly given very little though to race in American culture, and is at her best when she is charged with the task of working within a system to achieve a specific goal, regardless of the values assigned to that goal. At her core, she has no interest in talking about white supremacy, or the racism embedded within American culture, because you can’t whip votes for those things in Congress.

In a followup interview with Melissa Harris-Perry, Jones confirmed that this answer, which was entirely based on hypothetical legislation and included none of the personal reflection that he specifically asked Clinton to make, wasn’t enough for him. This is especially true since, despite Clinton’s legislation-focused answer, she has yet to produce a plan outlining the specific legislation she would seek if elected. Much of her policy talk is simply highlighting “hard truths” about “big issues” that are “serious problems” she’ll tackle “head on” if elected.

Clinton learned enough from Black Lives Matter to get a dig in on Bernie Sanders, saying at one point that “unlike some other people,” she understands that racism is more than an economic issue. But she apparently hasn’t learned much beyond that.

As Jones suggested to Harris-Perry, this isn’t likely to be the last time we see Black Lives Matter challenge Clinton on her dodgy racial justice record. We’ll see if she fares better next time.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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23 Responses to “Video of Clinton’s tense, awkward, revealing meeting with Black Lives Matter released”

  1. W Parker says:

    HRC (and all other Presidential candidates) would get a lot more credibility on this matter (and a lot of political mileage) if she/they convened a “summit” with BLM leaders, AA Community leaders, AA Political leaders to get all issues on the table that need ot be addressed and yes, help them all to craft a plan for legislation, community outreach, media and public education. it is desperately needed and anyone who is seeking to lead this country, post-Obama, needs to know this and be in the forefront of addressing and helping to change the current climate. Otherwise they are unfit for the office of POTUS, imo. That is why BLM are not trying to enagage any of the GOP candidates – the GOP has no

    intention in trying to change the climate because they help to create it and benefit from it politically, economically by making sure it continues and intensifies.

  2. brewball says:

    What we are all waiting for is when BLM attends a Trump gathering. I’d pay money to be in that crowd. However, my guess is BLM will stay away from Donald.

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  4. Opinionated_Lady says:

    Clinton indicates she knows about the legislative process, but never offers to work with BLM to lend her expertise to crafting an agenda and a strategy that would be mutually beneficial. Also, what’s with the finger-pointing? Isn’t that telling about how she feels? She seems dismissive, “Yes, it’s a problem. Now, go away.” This is the same bureaucratic strategy used to postpone dealing with a problem when a group decides to form a study committee: “Whew! Now we can count on a delay while the problem is studied. Maybe it will go away in the meanwhile, or we’ll come up with a solution.”

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  6. FLL says:

    The people best able to formulate specific goals are the people who are directly affected by the problem, hence the success of the efforts to overturn DADT and attain marriage equality. Politicians don’t often react effectively when you just tell them to think creatively and come up with specific solutions to injustice. Confront the politician, make your concrete demand and don’t let up. When dealing with politicians, a concrete demand is a better strategy than asking a question.

  7. BeccaM says:

    Me too, Outspoken. I kept seeing “BLM” in the press and wondering “What’s the problem with the Bureau of Land Management?” It’s common here, too, in New Mexico and usually the applicable context.

  8. Outspoken1 says:

    Another education for me. When I first read BLM, I thought Bureau of Land Management (real common out here in Colorado); huh? Then, duh for me, Black Lives Matter. Acronyms do go with different generations. This makes so much more sense. Never forget to laugh at yourself when the moment arrives. [grin]

  9. BeccaM says:

    As I remarked below: You don’t ask a politician what their plan is to solve a problem. You come up with your own plan, with concrete goals and solutions, and then lobby and persuade the politician not only to adopt your solution, but convince them it’s their plan, too.

    For example, there’s a story trending now on DKos about how African American jurors are excluded arbitrarily at a rate three times more often than white jury candidates. This is clear evidence of a systemic problem and could be addressed. How? Put far greater scrutiny on the practice of arbitrary exclusions and find ways to limit them, especially when self-evidently motivated by the race of the potential juror and the race of the suspect.

    Independent police oversight boards and criminal charges when police file false reports, and far more scrutiny over training, curtail police militarization and anything else in the system which makes “I saw him reach for his waistband” an excuse for murdering a suspect. Ban asset forfeiture practices and municipal budgeting-through-fines BS. End the failed ‘war on drugs’ and race-based prosecutions for minor offenses, as well as racially-discriminatory sentencing. Get serious about bail reform and the now-increasing practice of debtor imprisonment. End prison privatization and the exploitation of prison labor. Reform mandatory sentencing practices. All of these are concrete goals, and all of them can be sold as specific proposals to right ongoing injustices.

    “What are you going to do about white supremacy” is not only not a goal, but right or wrong, it is an accusation. It all but implies you don’t expect the person being asked that question even to want to help. You are informing them you consider them the enemy and not a potential ally. Step one in
    getting someone to help you is to stop accusing them of being the enemy, even if their prior behavior has been antagonistic and counterproductive.

    “So what specifically do you want me to do about it?” is a valid response. But if all one comes back with is “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.” — that’s basically coming from a position of complaining about where we are, absent a vision of where we need to go. There actually is something that can be done, and winning access to a major presidential candidate is itself an accomplishment. One which needs to be followed up with concrete, pragmatic and persuasive proposals.

  10. AndyinChicago says:

    I thought her most pragmatic answer was her best. When she’s authentic, it comes across, and even if it’s not perfect, it’s something to work with. If she’s the eventual Democratic nominee, I hope we see more of her instead of the first couple minutes, even if she does need to improve her awareness of her constituency’s like the black community’s needs.

  11. Indigo says:

    She knows the legislative process, she realizes the limits are very real, and, like Lyndon Johnson, she knows how to twist arms and get the job done. That’s the point of a presidency where the president in fact presides.

  12. Indigo says:

    There is that.

  13. 2karmanot says:

    Thoughtful! As for: “she is an unalloyed pragmatist,” is that a euphemism for pot-metal?

  14. BeccaM says:

    That’s exactly the problem right now. This nascent BLM movement doesn’t seem to have concrete goals in mind. And the problem as ever on the progressive side of the fence is EVERYBODY wants their particular pet cause(s) at the top of the list.

    Ya don’t ask a politician what they’re going to do about a systemic problem, because you won’t get anything but canned and vague answers. The LGBT movement didn’t ask politicians to ‘do something’ about anti-gay discrimination — there were and still are concrete goals. Push for HIV research funding (done). Repeal DADT (done). Overturn DOMA and make marriage equality a civil right for all couples, gay or straight (done, but not finished). Next up are ENDA and banning anti-LGBT discrimination in public accommodations and to fight back against religious discrimination carve-outs. Concrete goals with measurable results.

    Not only is “What are you going to do about white supremacy” a dumb question, it is also one which is accusatory and alienating in and of itself, particularly when addressed to a white person who wants to help.

  15. Andrew Reinert says:

    To the degree that Julius Jones hoped to elicit an introspective, deeply empathetic response from Hilary Clinton, this encounter was a failure. Nothing I have seen suggests that Ms. Clinton is given to introspection or expansive feeling. As Jon Green suggests above, Ms. Clinton is a pragmatist. (I will, this once, disagree with Mr. Green; I don’t consider Ms. Clinton a pragmatist of the highest degree. I consider her a pragmatist of middling degree. I think we can agree that she is an unalloyed pragmatist.)

    At the moment Ms. Clinton described the need for something to “sell,” I’d have given up on her capacity to reveal any depth. Mr. Jones is perhaps more generous than I; he continuesd to pursue a more substantive answer from the candidate. His statement later, to Melissa Harris-Perry, that he was disappointed in Ms. Clinton’s lack of personal reflection, suggests to me that he imagined her capable of such, and unwilling to offer it. I’m unpersuaded. I think that Ms. Clinton was entirely candid with him: she views change as a product of legislation. Identify a marketable piece of legislation, and she’ll do her best to sell it. Ms. Clinton is not merely a pragmatist, she’s a bureaucrat. The nearest I think we shall ever come to a personal revelation from Ms. Clinton was the whiff of retaliation as she asked BLM what they had done wrong. On a personal level, Ms. Clinton is capable of bitterness when challenged. But she is more capable of implementing another’s established plan.

    For all that’s painful and disappointing and downright embarrassing in this episode, there’s something to be gained from it. Ms. Clinton offered an unsparing self-portrait. She laid her limitations bare. We’re she to achieve he presidency, BLM activists would at least know that she could be relied on strictly as a legislative salesman. She’s a relatively limited force, to be deployed in finite ways. So, indeed, are most politicians.

  16. 2karmanot says:

    Ego vs ID great for big time political wrestling!

  17. 2karmanot says:

    Hillary is on the side of all cleaning ladies! So there, nay sayers!

  18. Bill_Perdue says:

    I wasn’t defending BLM. A couple of days ago I pasted a scathing criticism of BLM by Black Agenda Report, when BAR called them the nastiest name in the book – Democrat. (1)

    My criticism was about the idea that the reaction to the mass murders by cops and other scum like Zimmerman was ’emotional’ – it’s not, it’s highly political and one of it’s best effects will be to weaken and help split the Democrat party because the Obama regime is not going to lift a finger to jail these racist thugs.

    BLM is undefined and has a self appointed leadership. It likely won’t last but the idea that black lives matter is having a profound impact in terms of reigniting black rage and black nationalist sentiment.

    BLM is not the answer.

    (1) ‘To whom are #BlackLivesMatter’s leaders accountable, and just where are they taking their “movement”? Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign marketed itself as “the movement” too.

    Why doesn’t the #BlackLivesMatter movement, supposedly focused upon the unique needs of people of color, have any critique of the black political class, almost all Democrats, who have been key stakeholders in the building of the prison state, in gentrification and school privatization from New Orleans to Detroit and beyond, and who helped peddle the subprime mortgages to black families which exploded and cut black family wealth by nine-tenths? Have they even noticed that a black president has closed and privatized more public schools than any other in US history? For all the big words they use, do they ever mention the word “capitalism”?

    There are ominous signs. Last month folks whom Alicia Garza described as “part of our team” disrupted two minor white male candidates at NetRootsNation, the annual networking event for paid and wannabe paid Democratic party activists, embarrassing them with demands over structural racism and “say her name”. If they were positioning themselves for careers inside the far-flung Democratic party apparatus, it was a smart move, because Hillary wasn’t there. Hence they got noticed in that crowd of Democrat operatives without antagonizing the people with the real money and connections.

    When Hard Knock Radio’s Davey D interviewed Garza on July 21, just before the Cleveland #BlackLivesMatter conference, Garza dropped several more indications that seem to point toward an eventual affiliation with Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.” http://www.blackagendareport.com/wheres-the-blacklivesmatter-critique-of-black-political-class

  19. nicho says:

    I’m going with Indigo here. BLM needs a plan or at least an outline of a plan. “Here’s what you need to do…” and then get candidates to sign on or not. Every other group that has been successful had an outcome that they wanted. From women’s suffrage to Freedom to Marry. People are fond of comparing BLM to ACT UP, but ACT UP had a clear idea of what they wanted government to do.

    “What are you going to do about white supremacy” is a dumb question. What do you mean by white supremacy and is it anything the president can change by him/herself?

    I don’t see BLM’s tactics, at this point, gaining them a lot of supporters — except from those who want to see candidates harassed. In fact, they seem to be doing their best to alienate a lot of people who are willing to join forces with them.

    Year ago, in the late ’60s, I was at a meeting that was pretty fractious. At the end, I was walking out with the leader of the meeting. He said to me, “I’d like to give them what they want, but they don’t know what they want.”

  20. Bill_Perdue says:

    It is not an emotional issue, it’s a political issue, and a very divisive one that. Along with the union organizing drives of low wage workers and the fight for a decent minimum wage, as opposed to the indecent and racist proposals of the D and R parties, will help split the Democrats and drive people of color towards the option of independent political action. https://solidarity-us.org/leftelectlabotz

    “By bowing to police power, President Obama guaranteed that official carnage against Black people would continue. If he had “commented on any of the unjust ritualized murders that took the lives of Sean Bell (New York), Oscar Grant (Oakland), Kenneth Chamberlain (New York) or Troy Davis (Georgia), he would have brought the open season on black and brown men and women to a long awaited close.” http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/how-barack-obama-killed-trayvon-martin

  21. Indigo says:

    As long as it is treated as an emotional issue, it’s not going any further than the Maury Show, regardless of the valid concerns of mass murders that are in fact happening.

  22. Bill_Perdue says:

    Opposition to the mass murder of people of color in this country is not an ’emotional’ question.

    It’s a question of the most basic human rights being violated by cops, legislators, prosecutors and judges on questions ranging from income inequality to police torture and murders.

    8 Horrible Truths About Police Brutality and Racism in America Laid Bare by Ferguson
    http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/8-horrible-truths-about-police-brutality-and-racism-america-laid-bare-ferguson

    How Racism in American Institutions Results in Harsher Treatment in Law Enforcement for Minorities https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/howracism.htm

  23. Indigo says:

    #blacklivesmatter is about emotion. Hillary is about shaping law. The two have the potential to overlap but cautiously nuanced emotion statements are not the way law is shaped. I’m going way out on the limb here but clearly, Hillary’s the grown up in the room. It’s about the laws, it’s about what a president can do in shaping the laws. For emotional improv, check in with The Donald.

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