When Black Lives Matter Met Clinton: Activists Speak Out on Challenging Candidate over Crime Record

August 19, 2015


Daunasia Yancey

founder and lead organizer, Black Lives Matter Boston.

Julius Jones

founder and lead organizer, Black Lives Matter Worcester, Massachusetts.

Black Lives Matter activists are back in the news after confronting Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. Following a campaign event in New Hampshire, a group of Black Lives Matter activists from Massachusetts met with Clinton. What followed was a 16-minute conversation during which the activists pressed Clinton to address her support of the crime bill that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, signed into law in 1994. That legislation led to the largest increases in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Hillary Clinton had heavily lobbied lawmakers to pass the crime bill, which included $9.7 billion in prison funding and tougher sentencing provisions. We air excerpts and speak to the activists, Daunasia Yancey of Black Lives Matter Boston and Julius Jones of Black Lives Matter Worcester.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Black Lives Matter activists are back in the news after confronting Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. Following a campaign event in New Hampshire, a group of Black Lives Matter activists from Massachusetts met with Clinton. What followed was a 16-minute conversation during which the activists pressed Clinton to address her support of the crime bill that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, signed into law in 1994. That legislation led to the largest increases in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Hillary Clinton had lobbied heavily lawmakers to pass the crime bill, which included $9.7 billion in prison funding and tougher sentencing provisions.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking before the annual Women in Policing Conference in 1994, Hillary Clinton said, quote, "We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders. The 'three-strikes-and-you're-out’ for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets," she said.

Well, in a moment, we’ll be joined by two of the Black Lives Matters activists who talked with Hillary Clinton last week. But first let’s talk—let’s turn to a part of their exchange. It begins with Daunasia Yancey of Black Lives Matter Boston.

DAUNASIA YANCEY: But your—you and your family have been personally and politically responsible for policies that have caused health and human services disasters in impoverished communities of color through the domestic and international war on drugs that you championed as first lady, senator and secretary of state. And so I just want to know how you feel about your role in that violence and how you plan to reverse it?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, you know, I feel strongly, which is why I had this town hall today. And as, you know, the questions and the comments from people illustrated, there’s a lot of concern that we need to rethink and redo what we did in response to a different set of problems. And, you know, in life, in politics, in government—you name it—you’ve got to constantly be asking yourself, "Is this working? Is it not? And if it’s not, what do we do better?" And that’s what I’m trying to do now on drugs, on mass incarceration, on police behavior and criminal justice reform, because I do think that there was a different set of concerns back in the '80s and the early ’90s. And now I believe we have to look at the world as it is today and try to figure out what will work now. And that's what I’m trying to figure out. That’s what I intend to do as president.

DAUNASIA YANCEY: Yeah, and I would offer that it didn’t work then, either, and that those policies were actually extensions of white supremacist violence against communities of color. And so, I just think I want to hear a little bit about that, about the fact that actually while—

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not sure—yeah.

DAUNASIA YANCEY: —those policies were being enacted, they were ripping apart families—


DAUNASIA YANCEY: —and actually causing death.

HILLARY CLINTON: Yeah, I’m not sure I agree with you. I’m not sure I disagree that any kind of government action often has consequences. And certainly, the war on drugs, which, you know, started back in the '80s—right?—has had consequences. Increasing penalties for crime and "three strikes and you're out" and all of those kinds of actions have had consequences. But it’s important to remember—and I certainly remember—that there was a very serious crime wave that was impacting primarily communities of color and poor people.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton responding to a question posed by Daunasia Yancey of Black Lives Matter Boston after a campaign event in New Hampshire last week. Well, Daunasia joins us now here in New York along with Julius Jones of Black Lives Matter Worcester, who also questioned Clinton about her criminal justice record.

Welcome to Democracy Now! In a moment, we’re going to play a longer part of the encounter you both had. But, Daunasia, explain the scene. How did you meet up with Hillary Clinton? You—unlike other Black Lives Matter moments in presidential campaign history of the last few months where people interrupted public events, you were actually brought to her privately?

DAUNASIA YANCEY: Yes. We went to New Hampshire with the intention of confronting Hillary Clinton in the public forum. There was a forum she was hosting on substance abuse. Unfortunately, when we got there, we were told that we couldn’t come inside. But Dan Merica actually recognized me and started—

AMY GOODMAN: Because it was crowded, you—

DAUNASIA YANCEY: That’s the reason that we were given, was capacity. And so, he was tweeting that we weren’t able to get in, and then someone came out.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a reporter from CNN?

DAUNASIA YANCEY: Yes. And so, someone came out and invited us into an overflow room, where we could actually watch the forum. And then, one of her staffers came in and said, you know, "We could offer you a couple of minutes with her." And we said, "Absolutely," so that we could ask her the questions that we had.

AMY GOODMAN: And did she know you were filming her?


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And were you surprised that the conversation, Julius, lasted as long as it did?

JULIUS JONES: Yeah, it was actually kind of shocking. I think—I think she was taking the opportunity to give us enough time and space to satisfy the concerns of—that were raised by us not being let in. It felt as if, you know, it was strategic on the campaign’s part, and it was probably pretty smart that they didn’t let the story get out that we were shut out of the meeting. But I think what—I think the direction that the conversation went in was probably unexpected by her and the campaign. And it was a very candid, open and honest and frank Hillary Clinton, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about, Daunasia, before we go into the question, the next question that Julius asks, what you—the issues you were raising in this first encounter with her that we just played.

DAUNASIA YANCEY: Well, we wanted to hear from her a personal reflection on her participation in promoting policies through the war on drugs that have increased our mass incarceration situation that we’re in today, that Hillary Clinton and the Clintons hold a unique space in our country’s politics. And so, to be at a—having a forum on substance abuse and to not recognize her own role in not—you know, in the war on drugs, that has actually been a war on drug users, we felt like we really needed to hold her accountable to that history.

AMY GOODMAN: And in what capacity was she responsible? Talk about her history, how you hold her responsible.

DAUNASIA YANCEY: Well, she advocated for, as FLOTUS and as senator, for policies that have increased the penalties for minor drug offenses and things like that. Back in '94, there was $17 billion divested from HUD, from public housing, and $19 billion put into prison construction. And so, with situations like that, that we've seen her publicly support, we really wanted to hear from her what has changed in her that she would not continue to promote practices like that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how do you respond to folks who say that, well, the Black Lives Matter now has been confronting several Democratic candidates, but the Republican candidates, of which there are many more, have largely been so far unscathed on the question of answering their policy issues in terms of the black community and of police violence and on mass incarceration?

DAUNASIA YANCEY: Yeah. But, well, every presidential candidate should expect to hear from us and expect to be held accountable. It’s actually a practice called "power mapping," where it’s similar to lobbying, where you actually map who’s closest to you on the issue and go to those folks first in order to force them to articulate their stance and then hold them accountable to it. So this movement is very strategic, and that’s what we’ve been doing.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to turn to the next part of the interaction. Talk about how long you had with her. There were campaign staffers around, is that right?

JULIUS JONES: Yeah, it was a—it was a room that was probably full of 20 people. There were five folks with us and 15 with her, and then the four or five people that you see on camera. There was probably another six on either side of the person who was filming. And it was—it was a decent amount of time. It was like 15 minutes. It felt like it—it felt like it lasted forever.

AMY GOODMAN: So this is Julius Jones questioning Hillary Clinton.

JULIUS JONES: The truth is that there’s an extremely long history of unfortunate government practices that don’t work, that particularly affect black people and black families. And until we, as a country, and then the person who’s in the seat that you seek, actually addresses the anti-blackness current that is America’s first drug—we’re in a meeting about drugs, right? America’s first drug is free black labor and turning black bodies into profit, and the mass incarceration system mirrors an awful lot like the prison plantation system. It’s a similar thread, right? And until someone takes that message and speaks that truth to white people in this country, so that we can actually take on anti-blackness as a founding problem in this country, I don’t believe that there is going to be a solution. ...

You know, I genuinely want to know—you and your family have been, in no uncertain way, partially responsible for this, more than most, right? Now, there may have been unintended consequences. But now that you understand the consequences, what in your heart has changed that’s going to change the direction in this country? Like, what in you—like, not your platform, not what you’re supposed to say—like, how do you actually feel that’s different than you did before? Like, what were the mistakes? And how can those mistakes that you made be lessons for all of America for a moment of reflection on how we treat black people in this country? ...

HILLARY CLINTON: Your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair. It’s psychologically fair. It’s economically fair. But you’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, "Here’s what we want done about it," because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it, who are going to say, "Oh, we get it. We get it. We’re going to be nicer." OK? That’s not enough, at least in my book. That’s not how I see politics. So, the consciousness raising, the advocacy, the passion, the youth of your movement is so critical. But now all I’m suggesting is, even for us sinners, find some common ground on agendas that can make a difference right here and now in people’s lives. And that’s what I would love to, you know, have your thoughts about, because that’s what I’m trying to figure out how to do.

So, yeah, deal with mass incarceration. I don’t—it’s not just an economic issue, although I grant you some people see it like that. But it’s more than that. I think there is a sense like, you know, low-level offenders, disparity in treatment, we’ve got to do something about that. I think that a lot of the issues about housing and about job opportunities, Ban the Box, a lot of these things—let’s get an agenda that addresses as much of the problem as we can, because then you can be for something, in addition to getting people to have to admit that they’re part of a long history in our country of, you know, either, you know, proposing, supporting, condoning discrimination, segregation, etc. Now, what do we do next? And that’s—that’s what I’m trying to figure out in my campaign, so that’s what I’m doing.

HANDLER: Madam Secretary, we do have to go. Thank you.

JULIUS JONES: Respectfully, the piece that’s most important—and I stand here in your space, and I say this as respectfully as I can—but if you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what you need to do. Right?

HILLARY CLINTON: I’m not telling you; I’m just telling you to tell me.

JULIUS JONES: What I mean to say is that this is, and has always been, a white problem of violence. It’s not—there’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, if that is the—

JULIUS JONES: And it’s a conversation and a pushback.

HILLARY CLINTON: OK, I understand. I understand what you’re saying.

JULIUS JONES: And then, we are also, respectfully, respectfully—

HILLARY CLINTON: Yeah, well, respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with a very real problem.

JULIUS JONES: That’s not what I mean. That’s not what I mean. That’s not what I mean.


JULIUS JONES: But like, what I’m saying is you—what you just said was a form of victim blaming. Right? You were saying that what the Black Lives Matter movement—


JULIUS JONES: —needs to do to change white hearts is to come up with a policy change.

HILLARY CLINTON: No, I’m not talking about—look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them to live up to their own God-given potential, to live safely without fear of violence in their own communities, to have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future. So, we can do it one of many ways. You know, you can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through it you may actually change some hearts. But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Julius Jones speaking with Hillary Clinton, and Daunasia Yancey, as well, of the Black Lives Matter movement, Boston and Worcester. They went up to Keene, New Hampshire. She was holding a forum on substance abuse. And they were actually brought to her backstage afterwards. Were you satisfied, Julius, with her answer to you?

JULIUS JONES: I think we got to her in a way that made it feel like the trip was worth it. The content of the answer, I was not satisfied with, because Hillary Clinton gave an answer that I might expect in a normal conversation that I have with your everyday liberal person who is ducking their personal responsibility and just trying to focus on the solution. And that’s something that I expect in everyday conversation when I engage with people on this idea. But when it comes to Hillary Clinton and the Clintons, in general, they not only occupy a unique space in how they feel, but they are directly responsible for the greatest increase in the prison population under any president. And for her to be confronted with this idea and then immediately say that the movement needs to solve this problem, and then, in the backdrop, what she’s not saying is—what would be in parentheses would be that I created, like the problem that the Clintons created, and perpetuated this long, droning history of anti-blackness in the United States. And her visceral reaction, I think, was indicative of how she felt, and I think it was indicative of how, perhaps in her own racial introspection, it was the first time that it had really occurred to her like that, because it was like—it was a very emotional reaction, more emotion than I think we’ve seen in Hillary.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I think it’s one of the more candid moments in the presidential campaign so far of any of the candidates, to get her to have to respond off her regular message or her prepared notes and have to have an interchange and a back-and-forth on a subject that she clearly did not relish having, but was also clearly affected or listening to what you had to say. So, you know, I congratulate you for being able to raise those issues, and also, thankfully, that there was a video to let other people see what actually happened.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back and get your comment on the other times that Black Lives Matter have engaged with the Democratic presidential candidates. Earlier this month, two Black Lives Matter activists, Marissa Johnson and Mara Williford, shut down an appearance in Seattle by presidential candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you, Seattle, for being one of the most progressive cities in the United States of America!

MARA WILLIFORD: If you do not listen to her, your event will be shut down right now. Right now.

AMY GOODMAN: After some negotiation amidst a chorus of boos from the crowd, Marissa Johnson addressed the crowd and held a four-and-a-half-minute moment of silence for Michael Brown, one minute for each hour he lay on the street in Ferguson after being gunned down by a police officer August 9, 2014, just over a year ago. Johnson then referenced the confrontation that Black Lives Matter activists had with Sanders and another Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, earlier this summer at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix.

MARISSA JOHNSON: If you believe that black lives matter, as you say you do, then you will join us now in holding Bernie Sanders accountable specifically for his actions. Bernie, you were confronted—you were confronted at Netroots by black women who said black lives matter, and you have yet to apologize or put out a criminal justice reform package like O’Malley did.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Sanders appeared on Meet the Press Sunday and spoke to reports that his campaign has apologized for taking so long to reach out to Black Lives Matter activists.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, that was sent out by a staffer, not by me. Look, we are reaching out to all kinds of groups, absolutely. I met with folks at Black Lives Matter. We’re reaching out to Latino groups. We’re reaching out to the unions. We’re fighting to expand Social Security. And we’re reaching out to senior groups. We’re reaching out to healthcare groups, because we believe that everybody in America is entitled to healthcare. We’re reaching out to everybody. But on this issue of Black Lives Matter, let me be very clear: The issue that they are raising is a very, very important issue. There’s no candidate for president who will be stronger in fighting against institutional racism and, by the way, reforming a broken criminal justice system. Chuck, we have more people in jail in the United States of America than any other country on Earth. And we need real changes. We need to do away with the militarization of local police departments. We need to do away with minimum sentencing. We need education and jobs for our young people, rather than jails and incarceration.

CHUCK TODD: I understand that, but you said a staffer put it out. But an—you felt an apology was necessary?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: No, I don’t. I think we’re going to be working with all groups. This was sent out without my knowledge.

CHUCK TODD: Fair enough.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Chuck Todd of Meet the Press speaking with Senator Sanders. Julius Jones, your response to Sanders, the interruptions and the questioning of him? Do you feel he has responded adequately?

JULIUS JONES: I feel like his addition of racial justice to his platform has been a good step in the right direction. What he’s asked folks to do is to be patient with him and to trust that he will be the best candidate to advance this type of agenda. And I think that even he, who is arguably on the cutting edge of this issue, does not understand the emergency, the urgency that we’re in, in the struggle, because it’s not just an item on a long list of agendas in the United States for most of us. It’s our families being devastated, in the slow form, through poverty, the loaded gun that is poverty, that the black community has had. It’s faster in the prison, like with families who are broken up by their family members being in prison. And then it’s the rapid, violent version in police brutality. Last time I checked, The Counted project, who’s keeping track of police murders, police killings in the United States, it’s up to 731. It’s on pace to topple a thousand. And proportionately, it’s disproportionately against black people. We have live statistics that are showing the urgency of this, unlike ever before. And Bernie Sanders is not treating it justly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to finish on—we’ve been talking but the presidential candidates. What about the sitting president and his changes in the last year or two in addressing some of the issues of mass incarceration and an unjust justice system? What do you think about his policies?

DAUNASIA YANCEY: I think that he needs to be held just as accountable as anyone seeking or in this office. Right? And so, right now we are focused on this presidential race, but, absolutely, folks have raised that concern, and I think that he doesn’t get off, either. No president of the United States has ever stood for black lives in a strong and effective way, because, I mean, we’re in the situation that we’re in now, right?

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, how you ended up founding a Black Lives Matter chapter in Boston, and you, Julius, representing Black Lives Matter in Worcester, Massachusetts?

DAUNASIA YANCEY: It was through the Black Lives Matter ride to Ferguson last year in August of 2014. Mike Brown was killed on August 9th, and we were down in Ferguson by August 29th. And we were down there to support the community, to raise the issue and to bring strategy back home. So that’s what we did in founding the chapter in Boston.

AMY GOODMAN: And Julius?

JULIUS JONES: Yes, in Worcester, I went to Ferguson a little bit before the nationwide call, and then, many months later, I was doing some organizing work in Worcester with a wonderful group and decided to attempt to bring the national energy of BLM to Worcester.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we thank you so much for being with us, Daunasia Yancey and Julius Jones, activists with Black Lives Matter. You can go to our website, especially for radio listeners, and you can see the interaction between the Black Lives Matter activists in New Hampshire with Hillary Clinton.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at Donald Trump, and particularly his taking on birthright—the issue of birthright—should the Constitution be changed?—and how he’s affecting other presidential candidates. Stay with us.

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