Hillary Clinton's Police Shootings Response Earned A Spirited Reception From The Audience

During the fourth Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton replied to a question about police shootings by saying that "there needs to be a concerted effort to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system." Both Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been under pressure to make tackling racial injustice a priority in their campaigns, and when Clinton mentioned systemic racism at the debate, she took an important step towards communicating her dedication to the issue. The Democratic audience ate it up.

Thanks largely to the Black Lives Matter movement, the issue of racial injustice — and more specifically, the frequency of unprosecuted police shootings of unarmed black Americans — has become a central policy focus in the Democratic primary. Sanders was confronted by Black Lives Matters protesters on the matter, prompting him to incorporate a racial justice platform into his campaign, and both Sanders and Clinton have met with activists from the movement.

Lately, much of the public discourse on race has focused on specific phenomena like police shootings. However, many on the left argue that the problem of racial injustice extends far beyond one arena of policy, and in fact permeates all aspects of American society. Much of the grassroots pressure on Clinton and Sanders has been an attempt to get them not only to adopt specific policies, but also to acknowledge how sweeping and pervasive the problem is. After all, while it's easy to condemn a cop for shooting an unarmed black American, it's much more politically risky to argue that the entire justice system is rigged against black Americans.

By condemning "systemic racism in the criminal justice system" at the debate, Clinton was giving voice to this school of thought on the left. She was attempting to communicate that she accepts one of the fundamental arguments of many Black Lives Matters activists, and that this will inform her view of racial issues if she's elected president.

Sanders, for his part, took a similar approach during the debate. He called out the fact that black and Latino Americans are overrepresented in prisons, and more significantly, proposed that every instance of an unarmed person being killed in policy custody automatically trigger an investigation from the Department of Justice. That's a bold policy proposal, and it's generally in line with what Clinton said, and yet still: There is a certain significance to actually speaking the words "systemic racism in the criminal justice system," and Clinton was the only one on stage to do so.