The Transcript Of Hillary Clinton & Black Lives Matter Discussing Activists' Concerns Portrays An At-Times Tense Conversation
Fire marshals closed the doors to Hilary Clinton's forum on substance abuse on Tuesday last week, due to it being over capacity. Despite this, Clinton's staff arranged for her to chat with Black Lives Matter activists in a closed meeting after the event to discuss the issue of mass incarceration — a weighty topic over which both Clinton and her husband Bill had previously been criticized.
After the 15-minute meeting, which the five activists (led by regional founder Daunasia Yancey) recorded with Clinton's permission, the group released video of the interaction to the public this past Monday. Although it wasn't the first time activists had attempted to gain control over the 2016 election's talking points, it perhaps was one of the more successful interactions — even if they disagreed with Clinton on a few key points.
"Look, I don't believe you change hearts," said Clinton, disagreeing with the activists on how to enact the shift in dialogue the movement had been pushing for. "I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate ... At the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to ... create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential."
The footage, released in two parts, included several tense moments, including an exchange in which one of the activists challenged Clinton, saying, "I say this as respectfully as I can, but you don't tell black people what we need to do. And we won't tell you all what you need to do."
Below is a full transcript of the meeting.
Julius Jones: It’s a pleasure and honor to be in this dialogue with you. But I think that a huge part of what you haven’t said is, you’ve offered a recognition that mass incarceration has not worked. And now there’s the unfortunate consequence of government practices that just didn’t work. But the truth is that there’s an extremely long history of “unfortunate government practices” that don’t work, that particularly affect black people and black families. And until we as a country, and then the person who’s in the seat that you seek actually addresses the anti-blackness current … that’s America’s first drug.
We’re in a meeting about drugs, right? America’s first drug is free black labor, and turning black bodies into profit. And the mass incarceration system mirrors [...] the prison plantation system. It’s a similar thread. Right? And until someone takes that message and speaks that truth — two white people in this country, so that we can actually take on anti-blackness as a founding problem — I don’t believe that there’s going to be a solution. Because what — the conversations that are happening now, there’s so much cohesion across the divide — the red side and the blue side — is because of money. We spend a lot of money on prisons. We spend more money on prisons than we are on schools. But if we look at it from a lens of, “Let’s solve this financial problem, and we don’t look at the greater bottom line — that African Americans, who are Americans, are suffering at greater rates than most other people … than every other people for the length of this country — then it’s not gonna go away. It’s just gonna morph into something new and evolved.
You know, I genuinely wanna know ... You and your family have been, in no uncertain way, partially responsible for this. More than most. Now, there may have been unintended consequences, but now that you understand the consequences, what in your heart has changed that’s gonna change the direction of this country? What in you — not your platform, not what you’re supposed to say — how do you actually feel, that’s different than you did before? What were the mistakes, and how can those mistakes that you made be lessons for all of America, or a moment of reflection on how we treat black people in this country?
[At this point, an aide interrupts the conversation to give the activists a heads-up on the time. There’s a brief verbal tussle when one activist believes that the group is being pushed out for another media interview, and he insists, “I’d really like to allow her to answer this question. We’ve worked really hard, we drove so many hours ...” The aide reassures him that they’re not removing them from the room, just giving them a timeframe to work with, and the conversation continues.]
Clinton: Well, obviously it’s a very thoughtful question that deserves a thoughtful answer. And I can only tell you that I feel very committed to and responsible for doing whatever I can. I’ve spent most of my adult life focused on kids through the Children’s Defense Fund and other efforts, to try to give kids, particularly poor kids, particularly black kids and hispanic kids the same chance to live up to their own God-given potential as any other kid. That’s where I’ve been focused. And I think that there has to be a reckoning. I agree with that. But I also think that there has to be some positive vision or plan that you can move people toward. Once you say, “You know, this country has still not recovered from its original sin” — which is true — once you say that, then the next question by people who are on the sidelines, which is the majority of Americans, the next question is, “Well, what do you want me to do about it? What am I supposed to do about it?”
That’s what 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. And this is now a time, a moment in time — just like the Civil Rights movement, or the women’s movement, or the gay rights movement, or a lot of other movements — reached a time the people behind that consciousness-raising and advocacy, they had a plan ready to go. So when you turn to the women’s movement [and say] “We want to pass this and we want to pass that, and we want to do this”, the problems are not all taken care of, we know that — obviously I know more about the Civil Rights movement in the old days, because I had a lot of involvement in working with [those] people — they had a plan. This piece of legislation, this court case, we’re gonna make etc, etc. Same with the gay rights movement — “We’re sick of homophobia, we’re sick of being discriminated against, we want marriage equality! We’re starting in the states and we’re gonna keep going ‘til we get it to the highest court of the land.”
So all I’m saying is your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair, it’s psychologically fair, it’s economically fair. But you’re gonna have to come together as a movement and say “Here’s what we want done about it.” Because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it who are gonna say, “Oh, we get it! We get it! We’re gonna be nicer.” That’s not enough — at least not in my book. That’s not how I see politics.
So 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 that will make a difference in people’s lives. And that’s what I would love to have your thoughts about. Because that’s what I’m trying to figure out how to do.
So yeah, deal with mass incarceration. It’s not just an economic issue — although I grant you, some people see it like that — but it’s more than that. I think there is a sense of, “You know, low-level offenders, disparity in treatment … we’ve gotta do something about that.” I think that a lot of the issues about housing and job opportunities [like] Ban the Box (the movement to ban ex-offenders from having to disclose if they have a criminal history) — let’s get an agenda that addresses as much of the problem as we can. Because then you can be for something, in addition to getting people to have to admit that they’re part of a long history in our country of either proposing, supporting, condoning discrimination, segregation, etc. Now, what do we do next? That’s what I’m trying to figure out in my campaign. That’s what I’m doing.
[The activists begin to thank Clinton before one starts to address one last concern. Clinton’s aides remind them that time is up.]
Jones: The piece that’s most important — and I stand here in your space, and I say this as respectfully as I can — if you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you what to do.
Clinton: Well, I’m not telling you. I’m telling you to tell me—
Jones: What I mean to say is—
Jones: ... this is, and has always been, a white problem of violence. It’s not—there’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.
Clinton: Well, if that is—
Jones: If it’s a conversation that’s pushed back—
Clinton: I understand, I understand what you’re saying—
Jones: ... then, respectfully—
Clinton: Respectfully, respectfully, if that’s your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we’re going to deal with this very real problem—
Jones: That’s not what I mean, that’s not what I mean.
Jones: But what I’m saying is, what you just said was a form of victim-blaming. What you were saying—
Jones: What the #BlackLivesMatter movement needs to do to change white hearts is —
Clinton: No, I’m not talking about—
Jones: … is come up with a policy change.
Clinton: No, look. I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You're not going to change every heart. You're not. But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential. To live safely, without fear of violence in their own communities. To have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future.
So we can do it one of many ways. You know, you can keep the movement going which you have started, and through it, you may actually change some hearts. But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation. Because we will not have all of the changes that you deserve to see happen in your lifetime because of your willingness to get out there and talk about this.
[Clinton’s aides tell her the meeting has run over]
Jones and Daunasia Yancey: Thank you — thank you.
Clinton: Well, I’m ready to do my part in any way that I can. Thank you.
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