“You have been partially responsible for this,” says the Black Lives Matter activist taking the lead in this exchange in Boston with Hillary Clinton,” more than most.” The “mass incarceration” system is designed to lower the cost of black labor, the activist argued, and he argues that the Clintons’ successful push for their crime bill in 1994 (the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act) industrialized it. In this exchange captured by Good magazine, the activist wants some form of repentance and atonement, but he’s barking up the wrong tree. Hillary tells him that she’s basically going to keep on keeping on, and isn’t interested in expressing regrets for anything she’s done in the past:
There’s a fundamental disconnect in this conversation, and it’s apparent even before Hillary’s handlers (including Huma Abedin, natch) try to remind the activists that Hillary’s time is not unlimited. Hillary’s not interested in rehashing the past, but looking at the future … and mostly her own future, except for the part of the past where she can brag about being old-school on the civil-rights movement. She then discusses criminal justice reform, housing, and economic initiatives, but strips it of the historic-racial construct that animates this movement.
In part 2, one can see that the conversation hasn’t exactly been a success. Hillary gets accused of “victim blaming,” and responds with a sharp rejoinder, while her handler tries gamely to conclude the conversation.
One gets the impression from Hillary that she’s doing this under some duress, perhaps as a way to avoid an on-stage confrontation later like Bernie Sanders endured. Her body language is guarded and defensive — and her entourage looks like they’re in the middle of an ambush interview themselves. Her tone is clearly condescending, almost lecturing at the end. If Team Hillary hoped to score points with this exchange, they’ll be sorely disappointed in the results.
Or maybe they just hoped to escape unscathed.
At any rate, the activists left the meeting unimpressed:
Members of the group who met with Clinton spoke about the experience during an interview on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” Monday night with Melissa Harris-Perry, who aired segments of the video.
Julius Jones said Clinton “was ducking personal responsibility for the role that her and her family played” in laws pushed by the Bill Clinton administration that affected mass incarceration.
Daunasia Yancey also said the exchange served as a moment of reflection for Clinton, adding, “her response really targeting on policy wasn’t sufficient for us.”
This may create a few problems down the line for Hillary and Democrats. They absolutely must find ways to energize and engage African-American voters to have a prayer of winning in November 2016. If this becomes emblematic of her engagement style with these communities, they’d better be prepared for even more disappointment.
Update: Yes, it really did get this awkward:
Hillary to BLM: "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."
— Jimmy (@JimmyPrinceton) August 18, 2015