Regardless of what side of the aisle they fall on, all of the presidential candidates have met criticism from black activists who seek to bring criminal injustices and cases of police brutality to the forefront of the campaign trail. As part of a conscious effort to address the concerns of the black community, Hillary Clinton met Michael Brown's mother Lezley McSpadden and other family members of victims who died at police hands in a private meeting Monday evening, according to her campaign. Along with McSpadden, Trayvon Martin's mother Sabrina Fulton and Tamir Rice's mother Samaria Rice were in attendance at the Chicago gathering.
According to MSNBC, Clinton mostly listened to the heartbreaking stories of the mothers. Trayvon Martin died in 2012 after a Florida neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, fatally shot the young black teen while he was walking home at night. Martin's death led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Michael Brown's death at the hands of a white police officer last year sparked protests both in Ferguson, Missouri, and nationwide and catapulted BLM into the everyday conversation. Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old who died in Cleveland last year after police shot and killed him. The young boy was playing outside with a toy gun.
The women considered the conversation to be "productive," despite no definitive promises from Clinton's campaign, according to CNN. "She is a mother, and she's a woman," Samaria Rice told CNN. "And I felt she understood where we were coming from. It doesn't matter what color we are."
Clinton's encounters with BLM haven't always been as smooth. Just on Friday, BLM protesters interrupted a campaign rally at the historically black Clark Atlanta University, a standoff that lasted nearly 10 minutes. "Now my friends, I'm going to get to some very important points that actually prove that black lives do matter, and we have to take action together," she told the crowd.
And in August, Good magazine published video of a behind-the-scenes meeting between Clinton and five activists, which culminated into a tense confrontation. "I don't believe you change hearts," Clinton is heard saying. "I believe you change laws." While Clinton's attempt to convince the activists that she was the person who would reform criminal justice laws was well-intentioned, some found it too aggressive.
The Atlantic's Theodore R. Johnson argues that "black voters prioritize the well-being of the group over their individual interests, and consider what's best for the group as a whole because history has shown them that 'we are in this thing together.'" In other words, "there is no personal liberty without group liberty," which would arguably make the BLM movement a representative issue for the entire community. While not all black individuals condone BLM's constant campaign interruptions — civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis told BuzzFeed News that Clinton's protesters should have given her a chance to speak because they should "respect the right of everybody to be heard" — the movement's ultimate goal of ending racial injustices is shared by everyone.
It's clear the black vote for 2016 is a powerful bloc. Their enthusiasm for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012 helped put him in the White House. Whether they realize it or not, these mothers of slain black men have become leading voices in this year's election race. In coming together out of tragedy, these women have immense influence, and it's clear that candidates need to be attuned to their needs and concerns, not just for votes, but because it's the right thing to do.