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Why It Matters That Mothers Of Police Victims Will Share A Spotlight With Bill Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is applauded during a campaign event at the Central Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, with mothers of victims of gun violence from left Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, Clinton, and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JACQUELYN MARTIN
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is applauded during a campaign event at the Central Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, with mothers of victims of gun violence from left Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, Clinton, and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JACQUELYN MARTIN

Twenty-four years after accepting his presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention, where he gave an impassioned speech about cracking down on crime, Bill Clinton will take to the convention stage in Philadelphia alongside the mothers of slain black men and women, whose lives have been shaped by “tough on crime” policies.

Prior to Clinton’s speech, the mothers of police and gun violence victims — Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Hadiya Pendleton — will speak about their children in front of the nation. Dubbed the Mothers of the Movement, the women will discuss the poverty and structural racism underlying police brutality and gun violence, which they say constitute a “national crisis.”

Their presence indicates how influential Black Lives Matter has been in shaping this election cycle. But the speech will also stand out because it’s scheduled to air before the former president, who played a key role in the ramping up of mass incarceration, delivers his speech.

Tough on Crime

As a presidential candidate in the early 1990s, when crime was surging and people sought a leader who could turn things around, Clinton ran on a tough on crime platform that included the promise of more police and harsher punishments for offenders.

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“[George Bush] talked a lot about drugs, but he hasn’t helped people on the front line to wage that war on drugs and crime. But I will,” Clinton said during the 1992 convention. “He won’t streamline the federal government and change the way it works, cut 100,000 bureaucrats and put 100,000 new police officers on the streets of American cities, but I will.”

It’s important for those mothers to be able to look power in the face

Following up on his promise, Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, two years later. Roughly 100,000 officers were added to police departments and low-income, predominately black and brown communities nationwide. The prison budget was expanded by billions of dollars. In practice, the law, paired with the myth of the superpredator propagated by Washington’s leaders, resulted in racist, fatal policing and the mass incarceration of black men and women.

The impact of Clinton’s policies is, in large part, what’s fueling today’s Black Lives Matter movement. The former president has said he regrets the so-called crime bill’s harsher effects, though he has also defended one of the more racist tropes that fueled it.

A Victory For Black Lives Matter

Fast forward to 2016, and the political landscape looks much different. The desire to rein in law enforcement and keep people out of the prison system is a top priority for Democratic voters. Several mothers of police victims campaigned with Hillary Clinton, who won black voters in the primary against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) by massive margins.

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Now, Clinton is facing a tight contest against Donald Trump, where turnout among voters of color will be crucial in November.

“What’s clear is that Hillary is in the fight of her life and likely needs to appeal to a broad range of folks, in particular to young black people under the age of 40,” Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, told ThinkProgress. “Whether that be Sybrina Fulton and her activism at the federal level around the murder of her son by a vigilante, or whether that be Lesley McSpadden and her work around the murder of her child Mike Brown in Ferguson, I would assume that Clinton foregrounding the mothers of the movement is a response to both the advocacy that those women have done directly and the powerful work that this movement has done over the last several years.”

http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2016/07/26/3801989/dnc-mothers-movement/The Black Lives Matter movement forced its way to the forefront of the election season early on, interrupting Democratic candidates’ campaign events and forcing them to say the names of victims like Martin, Brown, and Bland. The movement publicly refused to endorse either party, but influential figures, including the mothers and children of racial violence, voiced their support for both Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Inclusion of the mothers at the convention is a victory in and of itself, Garza said.

“I want to be really clear that it’s important for those mothers to have a national stage and a national platform. It’s important for those mothers to be able to look power in the face and tell them exactly what it is that they want to see,” she explained.

By including the mothers on the same night as President Clinton, the DNC is acknowledging that the push for racial justice — not tough on crime policies — is the new status quo that the party needs to embrace for the future.

Gaps In Understanding

At the same time, the co-founder believes Clinton and the DNC are trying to be strategic by shifting away from the roots of mass incarceration affiliated with Bill Clinton’s presidency.

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“My guess would be that while there are probably some people who are working inside the campaign that genuinely want to see change happen, what is also true is that this is a moment for Clinton to shift her image,” she said. “When we have something to vote for, we show up in droves. That is going to be the uphill battle for both of these candidates in this election cycle.”

Despite earning the support of the mothers earlier this year, as well as black voters in key election states, Clinton was repeatedly slammed for her role in mass incarceration and tough on crime policing.

She eventually apologized for certain aspects of the 1994 crime bill. But Garza believes there’s still a major gap between what Clinton’s proposing and what young black voters are asking for. The presidential nominee’s detailed plan to end mass incarceration and improve the relationship between police officers and the communities they serve is a clear reversal of her husband’s legacy. But activists are still looking for more.

We don’t need to hold her accountable for what her husband does.

“I think one of her major weak points is not just the policy of her husband. We don’t need to hold her accountable for what her husband does,” Garza said. “There does seem to be a gap in understanding about what the issues are. Mass incarceration is a serious issue and it means that black people are being disenfranchised from being able to participate in the political process. And it also means that members of our communities are being disappeared for decades. But it is also a big issue that we haven’t yet heard Secretary Clinton really address a plan to ensure that law enforcement stops killing young black people.”

Garza hopes Fulton, McSpadden, and the other mothers invited to speak Tuesday won’t be forgotten.

“It’s also my hope that this is not just symbolic,” she said. “We really owe it to those mothers that this not be symbolic — that this be a real amplification of clear solutions that will ensure that no other mother has to lose their child because of the actions of the people that are supposed to protect and serve those families.”