When running for president, candidates are expected to be well-versed in many things: international relations, economics, education policy, immigration. But what about race?
Daunasia Yancey and Julius Jones, both activists with the Black Lives Matter movement, think it’s time for candidates to brush up on their racial analysis because the issues of black people are not something candidates should be playing by ear come 2016.
“When it comes to race in the United States, their racial analyses are bad. They are poor. They are uninformed. They’re trite, and it’s indicative that they don’t actually plan on governing a pluralist society,” Jones told The Root Tuesday. “You cannot be the leader of the United States and not have a top-notch, advanced racial analysis.”
Jones and Yancey were among a group of Black Lives Matter activists out of Massachusetts who confronted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a recent presidential campaign event in New Hampshire.
Initially shut out of the event, the activists met with Clinton afterward, during which they voiced their concerns about mass incarceration and drug policies, the most problematic of which, they said, was passed during the presidency of Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton.
Both Clintons have been distancing themselves of late from the Clinton Crime Bill (also known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994). The legislation is often credited with creating many of the problems around mass incarceration that Americans are dealing with today. After the bill’s passage, there was a boom in the prison population, leading to the United States’ status of holding nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners despite being less than 5 percent of the world’s population. Hillary Clinton gave an anti-mass-incarceration speech, highlighting disparities in race, earlier this year.
During the video from the New Hampshire meeting, Hillary Clinton and the activists briefly discuss policy, with Clinton asking what they want. Although there wasn’t much time for detail in the video, as an aide hurried things along, Yancey, the founder of Black Lives Matter Boston, broke down to The Root what her group is looking for.
“What we want to see is divestment from the prison-industrial complex and reinvestment into community solutions,” said Yancey, highlighting specifically anti-poverty initiatives. “What we’ve seen back in ’94 was a huge divestment from HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and public housing and an investment into prisons. Seventeen billion was divested from HUD and put into prison construction. That’s not acceptable. That’s not a solution. … That’s what we are talking about when we talk about the need for a new analysis.”
An official with the Clinton campaign pointed to recent statements that Clinton has made on mass incarceration, voting rights and other issues surrounding race as evidence that the presidential candidate is serious about addressing black issues. The official also said that the campaign had previously been in touch with activists from Black Lives Matter.
But for now, the only 2016 hopefuls who have put out a specific racial-justice platform are former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders, representing Vermont. Many credit Black Lives Matter protesters with putting pressure on Sanders and O’Malley to respond with policy ideas that directly address the needs of African Americans.
In a statement to The Root about Clinton’s meeting with Black Lives Matter activists, the campaign wrote the following:
This discussion was one of many that the campaign will continue to have with a wide array of stakeholders in order to build on Hillary Clinton’s policy proposals to help reform our criminal-justice system and achieve racial justice. As Hillary has said, in order to implement real change, we must confront the deep-seated biases and racial injustice that still remains in our country today. We must not only change hearts, but we must do more to face hard truths in America. We must also work together to change laws, raise awareness and build a coalition to ensure every American knows what it means to be secure, safe and free.
Yancey and Jones appreciated the audience they had with Clinton but did not come away satisfied. They want more, and not just from her, but from all the candidates when it pertains to issues of race.
“They should all expect to hear from Black Lives Matter and its affiliates,” Yancey said, adding, “All presidential candidates should be held accountable.”
Jones, who is the one asking questions of Clinton in the video, described Clinton as “arguably the most powerful person in the United States that has the identity of a white woman” and said that Clinton operates from this mindset. He said that she could not “embrace the personal responsibility” of being someone who was in the room when decisions were made about mass incarceration and that she supported tough-on-crime measures as a New York senator.
Jones referred to Clinton as a “microcosm” of how many white Americans act around race. But he also said that Clinton “got what we were trying to say.”
“There were comments that we made to her that actually gave her pause,” said Jones, who is founder of Black Lives Matter in Worcester, Mass.
Jones said he felt that when her aide interrupted them during their meeting, Clinton was “really reflecting on her personal involvement in it.”
“Hillary Clinton is one of the smartest ladies on the planet, and I don’t think anything escapes her attention, but I think that she is having a hard time,” Jones said. “It seemed like she was having a hard time with it because it’s probably a hard thing to accept about yourself. It’s part of white denial in the United States.”