During a private fundraiser Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina, a Black Lives Matter activist took Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to task for racially loaded comments she made in the 1990s.
As Clinton spoke at the event, the activist, Ashley Williams, stepped out from the crowd and unfurled a banner quoting a remark Clinton made about criminals back in 1996: “We have to bring them to heel.” After Clinton took notice, Williams confronted her with another quote: “We want you to apologize for mass incarceration… I am not a superpredator, Hillary Clinton.”
Here’s the video, which concludes with Williams being escorted out of the event:
This wasn’t the first time a Clinton event has been disrupted by Black Lives Matter. Clinton has met with representatives from the group several times during the course of her campaign, including an October meeting where she said she wants to eliminate private prisons.
Bill Clinton has admitted the crime bill he signed into law in 1994 contributed to the problem of mass incarceration in the United States. The bill included a “three strikes” provision mandating life sentences for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes.
“I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” Clinton told an audience at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s annual meeting in Philadelphia last year. “And I want to admit it.”
Hillary Clinton supported the crime bill at the time. Two years later, she made the racially loaded comments Williams confronted her about last night:
Recent polling suggests Clinton is up big in South Carolina over Bernie Sanders ahead of this Saturday’s Democratic presidential primary, in large part because she’s particularly popular with black voters.
As ThinkProgress’ Kira Lerner reported earlier this week, the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, and Jordan Davis have all joined Clinton on the campaign trail in the Palmetto state to help Clinton make the case that she’s the best choice for African Americans. The group cites Clinton’s support for legislation to prevent racial profiling and to help individuals released from prison transition back into society, as well as her backing for sentencing reform in drug cases and tighter gun control.
But in an essay published in The Nation, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, makes a case that Clinton doesn’t deserve the support of black communities. Alexander points to the aforementioned crime bill and welfare reform Clinton lobbied for in the 1990s when her husband was president, policies that contributed to inequalities in the criminal justice system that are a nationwide problem today.
In a statement printed in the Huffington Post, Williams said her protest was meant to highlight inconsistencies in Clinton’s record with regard to racial issues.
“Hillary Clinton has a pattern of throwing the Black community under the bus when it serves her politically,” Williams wrote. “She called our boys ‘super-predators’ in ’96, then she race-baited when running against Obama in ‘08, now she’s a lifelong civil rights activist. I just want to know which Hillary is running for President, the one from ’96, ’08, or the new Hillary?”
But Geneva Reed-Veal, Sandra Bland’s mother, told ThinkProgress she doesn’t think Clinton should be judged by what she said or did 20 years ago.
“I want everyone to know that we’re not looking at what Bill did,” she said. “We’re not looking at his campaign, so we’re not judging her based on what he did. Let’s give her her own shot. We’re supporting her solely based on her own merits, not what she did as First Lady.”
In a statement sent to the Washington Post, Clinton expressed regret about her choice of language in the 1996 speech Williams confronted her about.
"Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today," Clinton says. "My life’s work has been about lifting up children and young people who’ve been let down by the system or by society."
Read Clinton's full statement here.