“I’m not a superpredator!” Ashley Williams, a young Black Lives Matter protester told Democratic presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton—her confidence belied by a slight quiver in her voice.
Even when heckled by the mostly white crowd at a $500-per-plate campaign fundraiser dinner in conservative South Carolina, Williams held her ground. She faced down an evasive Clinton, demanding an explanation for racist remarks the former First Lady made in 1996, where she referred to inner-city, black youth as “super-predators” with “no conscience” and “no empathy.” “We need to bring them to heel” she explained.
At the time, Clinton was touting her husband’s “tough on crime” policies—specifically the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994—which imposed harsh punishments on a variety of nonviolent offenses, and is widely accepted as a driving force (though not the only force) behind the explosion of incarceration over the next decade. Black America was hit particularly hard.
After a tense confrontation, Clinton’s security detail physically removed the young woman who had paid $500 to deliver her message.
After she was gone, a visibly annoyed Clinton, seemingly unable to stop herself, turned to the crowd and said “Back to the issues…” not realizing she was on camera. She could not have made a more tone-deaf statement, especially given the name of movement she had just been confronted by.
The whole incident is hard to watch—worse by the fact that the South Carolina Primary is just days away. For the past few months, we’ve been hearing all about Hillary’s “firewall” with black voters in spite of her, let’s call it questionable, Civil Rights record. Following her win in Nevada, the talking heads and wonks have been predicting a blowout victory in the Palmetto State due its demographic makeup.
This video could change everything. The #WhichHillary hashtag is likely to haunt her.
Throughout this election, the biggest problem Hillary has had to overcome is the perception that she is insincere, and out-of-touch with the concerns of voters. A recent Gallup poll showed that the top response to her name was the word “”dishonest.””
And as much as her surrogates and campaign staff try blame public perception on issues like gender, claiming she’s just been treated unfairly, it is Clinton’s own judgment that causes her problems—like when she accepted millions of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street, and insisted it wouldn’t affect her priorities, or when she ran a private email server out of her home as the Secretary of State. Hillary is her own worst enemy.
Clinton had a real opportunity with this incident to address some of the concerns millennial voters have regarding her record. She failed miserably, interrupting and talking over Williams and repeatedly asking “Can I talk?”
Some may sympathize with the former secretary, and would have liked if Williams had allowed her to answer. However, as someone used to being in the public eye, Hillary should have been able to put the situation in perspective. What she lost sight of was the pain and frustration that the BLM movement rose up out of: generations of oppression, and abuse—which Clinton played a role in. Williams wasn’t looking for an excuse, she was looking to heal. Clinton’s explanation was secondary to the goal of continuing a hard conversation with power in America.
Instead of going into damage control mode, and trying to answer as quickly as possible to return to her prepared speech, Clinton should have invited the young woman to address the crowd as her rival, Bernie Sanders, did. It could have been a much needed humanizing moment for her.
Her response perfectly encapsulated the underlying message of her campaign: This is about Hillary Clinton, and what she is owed by the American people. We denied her in 2008, and now it is her time. She is entitled to respond, and be done with the issue.
In contrast with Clinton, when BLM interrupted one of his rallies early on in the primary, Bernie Sanders stood back, and allowed the two women to address his mostly white crowd. He gave them a microphone, and their message a platform. After the incident, he met with BLM, mapped out an aggressive racial justice platform, and hired a young black woman to be the face of his campaign. These actions were indicative of his larger message that none of us can do it alone; we are stronger together. And as time passed, something amazing happened: his crowds grew, and became more diverse.
At this point, even if she takes South Carolina, Hillary Clinton may have just ruined her chances at winning the primary…and she has nobody to blame but herself.