"We can't hide from hard truths about race and justice. We have to name them and own them and change them."
—Hillary, June 2015
- April 29, 2015: 18th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership Forum
- June 23, 2015: Remarks at Community Meeting, Christ the King United Church of Christ
- July 20, 2015: Hillary Clinton Facebook Q&A
April 29, 2015: 18th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership Forum
Columbia University, New York
“Thank you so much. I am absolutely delighted to be back here at Columbia. I want to thank President Bollinger, Dean Janow, and everyone at the School of International and Public Affairs. It is a special treat to be here with and on behalf of a great leader of this city and our country, David Dinkins. He has made such an indelible impact on New York, and I had the great privilege of working with him as First Lady and then, of course, as a new senator.
When I was just starting out as a senator, David’s door was always open. He and his wonderful wife Joyce were great friends and supporters and good sounding boards about ideas that we wanted to consider to enhance the quality of life and the opportunities for the people of this city. I was pleased to address the Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum in my first year as a senator, and I so appreciated then as I have in the years since David’s generosity with his time and most of all his wisdom. So 14 years later, I’m honored to have this chance, once again, to help celebrate the legacy of one of New York’s greatest public servants.
I’m pleased too that you will have the opportunity after my remarks to hear from such a distinguished panel, to go into more detail about some of the issues that we face. I also know that Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer is here, along with other local and community leaders.
Because surely this is a time when our collective efforts to devise approaches to the problems that still afflict us is more important than ever. Indeed, it is a time for wisdom.
For yet again, the family of a young black man is grieving a life cut short.
Yet again, the streets of an American city are marred by violence. By shattered glass and shouts of anger and shows of force.
Yet again a community is reeling, its fault lines laid bare and its bonds of trust and respect frayed.
Yet again, brave police officers have been attacked in the line of duty.
What we’ve seen in Baltimore should, indeed does, tear at our soul.
And, from Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable.
Walter Scott shot in the back in Charleston, South Carolina. Unarmed. In debt. And terrified of spending more time in jail for child support payments he couldn’t afford.
Tamir Rice shot in a park in Cleveland, Ohio. Unarmed and just 12 years old.
Eric Garner choked to death after being stopped for selling cigarettes on the streets of this city.
And now Freddie Gray. His spine nearly severed while in police custody.
Not only as a mother and a grandmother but as a citizen, a human being, my heart breaks for these young men and their families.
We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America.
There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts.
There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes. And an estimated 1.5 million black men are “missing” from their families and communities because of incarceration and premature death.
There is something wrong when more than one out of every three young black men in Baltimore can’t find a job.
There is something wrong when trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve breaks down as far as it has in many of our communities.
We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance. And these recent tragedies should galvanize us to come together as a nation to find our balance again.
We should begin by heeding the pleas of Freddie Gray’s family for peace and unity, echoing the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others in the past years.
Those who are instigating further violence in Baltimore are disrespecting the Gray family and the entire community. They are compounding the tragedy of Freddie Gray’s death and setting back the cause of justice. So the violence has to stop.
But more broadly, let’s remember that everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone in every community is respected by the law. That is what we have to work towards in Baltimore and across our country.
We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans. Between police and citizens, yes, but also across society.
Restoring trust in our politics, our press, our markets. Between and among neighbors and even people with whom we disagree politically.
This is so fundamental to who we are as a nation and everything we want to achieve together.
It truly is about how we treat each other and what we value. Making it possible for every American to reach his or her God-given potential—regardless of who you are, where you were born, or who you love.
The inequities that persist in our justice system undermine this shared vision of what America can be and should be.
I learned this firsthand as a young attorney just out of law school—at one of those law schools that will remain nameless here at Columbia. One of my earliest jobs for the Children’s Defense Fund, which David had mentioned—I was so fortunate to work with Marian Wright Edelman as a young lawyer and then serving on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund—was studying the problem then of youth, teenagers, sometimes preteens, incarcerated in adult jails. Then, as director of the University of Arkansas School of Law’s legal aid clinic, I advocated on behalf of prison inmates and poor families.
I saw repeatedly how our legal system can be and all too often is stacked against those who have the least power, who are the most vulnerable.
I saw how families could be and were torn apart by excessive incarceration. I saw the toll on children growing up in homes shattered by poverty and prison.
So, unfortunately, I know these are not new challenges by any means.
In fact they have become even more complex and urgent over time. And today they demand fresh thinking and bold action from all of us.
Today there seems to be a growing bipartisan movement for commonsense reforms in our criminal justice systems. Senators as disparate on the political spectrum as Cory Booker and Rand Paul and Dick Durbin and Mike Lee are reaching across the aisle to find ways to work together. It is rare to see Democrats and Republicans agree on anything today. But we’re beginning to agreeing on this: We need to restore balance to our criminal justice system.
Now of course it is not enough just to agree and give speeches about it—we actually have to work together to get the job done.
We need to deliver real reforms that can be felt on our streets, in our courthouses, and our jails and prisons, in communities too long neglected.
Let me touch on two areas in particular where I believe we need to push for more progress.
First, we need smart strategies to fight crime that help restore trust between law enforcement and our communities, especially communities of color.
There’s a lot of good work to build on. Across the country, there are so many police officers out there every day inspiring trust and confidence, honorably doing their duty, putting themselves on the line to save lives. There are police departments already deploying creative and effective strategies, demonstrating how we can protect the public without resorting to unnecessary force. We need to learn from those examples, build on what works.
We can start by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.
President Obama’s task force on policing gives us a good place to start. Its recommendations offer a roadmap for reform, from training to technology, guided by more and better data.
We should make sure every police department in the country has body cameras to record interactions between officers on patrol and suspects.
That will improve transparency and accountability, it will help protect good people on both sides of the lens. For every tragedy caught on tape, there surely have been many more that remained invisible. Not every problem can be or will be prevented with cameras, but this is a commonsense step we should take.
The President has provided the idea of matching funds to state and local governments investing in body cameras. We should go even further and make this the norm everywhere.
And we should listen to law enforcement leaders who are calling for a renewed focus on working with communities to prevent crime, rather than measuring success just by the number of arrests or convictions.
As your Senator from New York, I supported a greater emphasis on community policing, along with putting more officers on the street to get to know those communities.
David Dinkins was an early pioneer of this policy. His leadership helped lay the foundation for dramatic drops in crime in the years that followed.
And today smart policing in communities that builds relationships, partnerships, and trust makes more sense than ever.
And it shouldn’t be limited just to officers on the beat. It’s an ethic that should extend throughout our criminal justice system. To prosecutors and parole officers. To judges and lawmakers.
We all share a responsibility to help re-stitch the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities.
We also have to be honest about the gaps that exist across our country, the inequality that stalks our streets. Because you cannot talk about smart policing and reforming the criminal justice system if you also don’t talk about what’s needed to provide economic opportunity, better educational chances for young people, more support to families so they can do the best jobs they are capable of doing to help support their own children.
Today I saw an article on the front page of USA Today that really struck me, written by a journalist who lives in Baltimore. And here’s what I read three times to make sure I was reading correctly: “At a conference in 2013 at Johns Hopkins University, Vice Provost Jonathan Bagger pointed out that only six miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Hollins Market.
But there is a 20-year difference in the average life expectancy.” We have learned in the last few years that life expectancy, which is a measure of the quality of life in communities and countries, manifests the same inequality that we see in so many other parts of our society.
Women—white women without high school education—are losing life expectancy. Black men and black women are seeing their life expectancy goes down in so many parts of our country.
This may not grab headlines, although I was glad to see it on the front page of USA Today. But it tells us more than I think we can bear about what we are up against.
We need to start understanding how important it is to care for every single child as though that child were our own.
David and I started our conversation this morning talking about our grandchildren; now his are considerably older than mine. But it was not just two longtime friends catching up with each other. It was so clearly sharing what is most important to us, as it is to families everywhere in our country.
So I don’t want the discussion about criminal justice, smart policing, to be siloed and to permit discussions and arguments and debates about it to only talk about that. The conversation needs to be much broader. Because that is a symptom, not a cause, of what ails us today.
The second area where we need to chart a new course is how we approach punishment and prison.
It’s a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago, despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.
Of the more than 2 million Americans incarcerated today, a significant percentage are low-level offenders: people held for violating parole or minor drug crimes, or who are simply awaiting trial in backlogged courts.
Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime. But it is does a lot to tear apart families and communities.
One in every 28 children now has a parent in prison. Think about what that means for those children.
When we talk about one and a half million missing African American men, we’re talking about missing husbands, missing fathers, missing brothers.
They’re not there to look after their children or bring home a paycheck. And the consequences are profound.
Without the mass incarceration that we currently practice, millions fewer people would be living in poverty.
And it’s not just families trying to stay afloat with one parent behind bars. Of the 600,000 prisoners who reenter society each year, roughly 60 percent face long-term unemployment.
And for all this, taxpayers are paying about $80 billion a year to keep so many people in prison.
The price of incarcerating a single inmate is often more than $30,000 per year—and up to $60,000 in some states. That’s the salary of a teacher or police officer.
One year in a New Jersey state prison costs $44,000—more than the annual tuition at Princeton.
If the United States brought our correctional expenditures back in line with where they were several decades ago, we’d save an estimated $28 billion a year. And I believe we would not be less safe. You can pay a lot of police officers and nurses and others with $28 billion to help us deal with the pipeline issues.
It’s time to change our approach. It’s time to end the era of mass incarceration. We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe.
I don’t know all the answers. That’s why I’m here—to ask all the smart people in Columbia and New York to start thinking this through with me. I know we should work together to pursue alternative punishments for low-level offenders. They do have to be in some way registered in the criminal justice system, but we don’t want that to be a fast track to long-term criminal activity, we don’t want to create another “incarceration generation.”
I’ve been encouraged to see changes that I supported as Senator to reduce the unjust federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine crimes finally become law.
And last year, the Sentencing Commission reduced recommended prison terms for some drug crimes.
President Obama and former Attorney General Holder have led the way with important additional steps. And I am looking forward to our new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, carrying this work forward.
There are other measures that I and so many others have championed to reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences are long overdue.
We also need probation and drug diversion programs to deal swiftly with violations, while allowing low-level offenders who stay clean and stay out of trouble to stay out of prison. I’ve seen the positive effects of specialized drug courts and juvenile programs work to the betterment of individuals and communities. And please, please, let us put mental health back at the top of our national agenda.
You and I know that the promise of de-institutionalizing those in mental health facilities was supposed to be followed by the creation of community-based treatment centers. Well, we got half of that equation—but not the other half. Our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions.
I have to tell you I was somewhat surprised in both Iowa and New Hampshire to be asked so many questions about mental health. “What are we going to do with people who need help for substance abuse or mental illness?” “What are we going to do when the remaining facilities are being shut down for budget reasons?” “What are we going to do when hospitals don’t really get reimbursed for providing the kind of emergency care that is needed for mental health patients?”
It’s not just a problem in our cities. There’s a quiet epidemic of substance abuse sweeping small-town and rural America as well. We have to do more and finally get serious about treatment.
I’ll be talking about all of this in the months to come, offering new solutions to protect and strengthen our families and communities.
I know in a time when we’re afflicted by short-termism, we’re not looking over the horizon for the investments that we need to make in our fellow citizens, in our children. So I’m well aware that progress will not be easy, despite the emerging bipartisan consensus for certain reforms. And that we will have to overcome deep divisions and try to begin to replenish our depleted reservoirs of trust.
But I am convinced, as the congenital optimist I must be to live my life, that we can rise to this challenge. We can heal our wounds. We can restore balance to our justice system and respect in our communities. And we can make sure that we take actions that are going to make a difference in the lives of those who for too long have been marginalized and forgotten.
Let’s protect the rights of all our people. Let’s take on the broader inequities in our society. You can’t separate out the unrest we see in the streets from the cycles of poverty and despair that hollow out those neighborhoods.
Despite all the progress we’ve made in this country lifting people up—and it has been extraordinary—too many of our fellow citizens are still left out.
Twenty-five years ago, in his inaugural address as Mayor, David Dinkins warned of leaving “too many lost amidst the wealth and grandeur that surrounds us.”
Today, his words and the emotion behind them ring truer than ever. You don’t have to look too far from this magnificent hall to find children still living in poverty or trapped in failing schools. Families who work hard but can’t afford the rising prices in their neighborhood.
Mothers and fathers who fear for their sons’ safety when they go off to school—or just to go buy a pack of Skittles.
These challenges are all woven together. And they all must be tackled together.
Our goal must truly be inclusive and lasting prosperity that’s measured by how many families get ahead and stay ahead…
How many children climb out of poverty and stay out of prison…
How many young people can go to college without breaking the bank…
How many new immigrants can start small businesses …
How many parents can get good jobs that allow them to balance the demands of work and family.
That’s how we should measure prosperity. With all due respect, that is a far better measurement than the size of the bonuses handed out in downtown office buildings.
Now even in the most painful times like those we are seeing in Baltimore …
When parents fear for their children…
When smoke fills the skies above our cities…
When police officers are assaulted…
Even then—especially then—let’s remember the aspirations and values that unite us all: That every person should have the opportunity to succeed. That no one is disposable. That every life matters.
So yes, Mayor Dinkins. This is a time for wisdom.
A time for honesty about race and justice in America.
And, yes, a time for reform.
David Dinkins is a leader we can look to. We know what he stood for. Let us take the challenge and example he presents and think about what we must do to make sure that this country we love—this city we live in—are both good and great.
And please join me in saying a prayer for the family of Freddie Gray, and all the men whose names we know and those we don’t who have lost their lives unnecessarily and tragically. And in particular today, include in that prayer the people of Baltimore and our beloved country.
Thank you all very much.”
June 23, 2015: Remarks at Community Meeting, Christ the King United Church of Christ
“SEC. HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you so much, Pastor Tracy (ph). Thank you for welcoming me to your church, this community, and with such powerful words.
I am here to listen but also to engage in the kind of open and honest discussion that I hope is happening all across America this week.
Last week, just a few hours before the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church during Wednesday night Bible Study, I was in Charleston visiting a technical school, meeting students — black, white, Hispanic — who were pursuing paid internships, and learning skills that will prepare them for the jobs of the future. I heard their stories, I shook their hands, I looked into their eyes, and I saw the hope and the pride that comes from doing work that is meaningful, learning, feeling that you matter, and that there will be a place for you.
That’s the basic bargain of our country. And these young men and a few young women were doing their part.
That night, word of the killings struck like a blow to the soul. How do we make sense of such an evil act, an act of racist terrorism perpetrated in a house of God? How do we turn grief, anger, and despair into purpose and action?
Those of us who are Christians are challenged by Jesus Christ to forgive seventy times seven — a daunting, even impossible task for most of us.
But then we have seen that scriptural admonition in action.
Isn’t it amazing, remarkable even, when fear, doubt, desire for revenge might have been expected, but instead forgiveness is found? Although a fundamental part of our doctrine, its practice is the most difficult thing we are ever called to do.
But, that’s what we saw on Friday, when one by one, grieving parents, siblings and other family members looked at that young man who had taken so much from them and said: “I forgive you.”
Wanda Simmons, the granddaughter of Reverend Daniel Simmons, said, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul,” she said to the killer, “is proof that they lived in love so hate won’t win.”
Their act of mercy was as stunning as his act of cruelty.
Hate cannot win. “There is no future without forgiveness,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu taught us, and forgiveness is the first step toward victory in any journey.
I know it’s tempting to dismiss a tragedy like this as an isolated incident, to believe that in today’s America, bigotry is largely behind us, that institutionalized racism no longer exists.
But despite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America’s long struggle with race is far from finished.
We can’t hide from hard truths about race and justice. We have to name them and own them and change them.
That’s why I appreciate the actions begun yesterday by the Governor and other leaders of South Carolina to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State House — (applause) — recognizing it as a symbol of our nation’s racist past that has no place in our present or our future. It shouldn’t fly there, it shouldn’t fly anywhere. (Cheers, applause.)
And I also commend Walmart for deciding to remove any product that uses it. (Applause.) Today, Amazon, eBay and Sears have followed suite, and I urge all sellers to do the very same.
But you know and I know that’s just the beginning of what we have to do.
The truth is, equality, opportunity, civil rights in America are still far from where they need to be. Our schools are still segregated — in fact, more segregated than they were in the l960s. (Applause.)
Nearly 6 million young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 are out of school and out of work. Think of that: neither learning nor working. And the numbers are particularly high for young people of color.
Statistics like these are rebukes to the real progress we have made and they pose an urgent call for us to act — publically, politically, and personally.
We should start by giving all of our children the tools and opportunities to overcome legacies of discrimination, to live up to their own God-given potentials.
I just saw some of the young people attending camp here at the church down in the basement, and I was thrilled to see that, because that is the kind of commitment we need more of in every church, in every place, until every child is reached. And I hope we can take that as a cause for action. (Applause.)
I learned this not from politics but from my mother, who taught me that everybody — everybody needs a chance and a champion. She knew what it was like to have neither one.
Her own parents abandoned her. By 14 she was out on her own, working as a housemaid. Years later, when I was old enough to understand, I asked her, “What kept you going?” Her answer was very simple: Kindness along the way from someone who believed she mattered. All lives matter. (Applause.)
And for her it was the first grade teacher who saw she had nothing to eat at lunch and, without embarrassing her, brought extra food to share. It was the woman whose house she cleaned, who agreed to let her go to high school so long as her work got done.
Because those people believed in her, gave her a chance, she believed in me. And she taught me to believe in the potential of every American.
That inspired me to go work for the Children’s Defense Fund after law school. It inspired my work for the Legal Services Corporation, where I defended the rights of poor people to have lawyers. I saw lives changed because an abusive marriage ended or an illegal eviction stopped.
In Arkansas, at the law school there, I supervised law students who represented clients in courts and prisons, organized college scholarship funds for single parents, led efforts for better schools and better health care.
So, I know — I know what personal kindness, political commitments, and public programs can do to help those who are trying their best to get ahead.
That’s why we need to build an economy for tomorrow, not yesterday.
You don’t have to look far from this sanctuary to see why that need is so urgent. But you also don’t have to look far to see that talent and potential is all right here, if only we can unleash it.
I believe that talent is universal but opportunity is not. We need to rebuild the American Opportunity Society for the 21st century.
And you might ask, how do we do that?
Well, first, start looking at the faces and the energy of the young people I just saw downstairs. We have to start early, make sure every four year old in America has access to high-quality preschool. (Applause.) Because those early years are when young brains develop, and the right foundation can lead to lifelong success.
Now, I’m not saying this just because I’m not a grandmother — (laughter) — of the most amazing, brilliant, extraordinary nine month old in history of the world. (Laughter.) I’m saying this because again I know what the evidence is. I know that 80 percent of your brain is developed by the age of three.
So we have to do more. And when I say we, I mean churches and houses of worship, I mean businesses, I mean charities, I mean local governments. All of us have to do more to help families be their child’s first teachers from zero to five.
You know, when I was First Lady of Arkansas, I struggled with this issue. We had a lot of kids, poor kids in the delta and south Arkansas and up in the mountains. And we were not going to be able to afford at that point all those years ago a universal pre-k program. We had to do more but we were never going to do enough.
So I looked for programs that people could run themselves. And I found a program in Israel, a program designed to help the children of immigrants into Israel, particularly from Ethiopia, who came with their parents seeking religious freedom. They were Ethiopian Jews. They had to escape. But many of them had never been to school.
And the secret to the program called the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, was to teach the mother to teach her child. (Applause.)
We need to do more of that, and I call on all of us to find ways to reach into those families, and then as our kids grow up, they’re going to need not only a good education to prepare them but the skills for tomorrow’s jobs.
We need tax credits for businesses that invest in apprenticeships, particularly providing opportunities to economically disadvantaged young people. (Applause.)
In order to create those new jobs, we have to attract investment into communities too often ignored or written off. Whether you live in Ferguson or West Baltimore, in Coal Country or Indian Country, you should have the same chance as any American anywhere to get ahead and stay ahead. (Applause.)
We should reauthorize the New Markets Tax Credit, which has encouraged billions of dollars in private funding for community development and small businesses in low-income, low-investment areas. It should be permanent.
A lot of the new jobs are going to come from small businesses. And we know that women and people of color face extra hurdles becoming entrepreneurs. It’s harder to find the support networks, it’s harder to get that loan.
So we’ve got to do more to knock down the barriers so every good idea that anybody has will get a fair hearing, and a chance to create a new business, to employ people and raise their incomes.
We must do all we can to be sure our communities respect law enforcement and that law enforcement respects the communities they serve. (Applause.)
And we need to come together for common sense gun reforms that keep our communities safe.
The key to all of this is revitalizing our democracy, and finally persuading the 50 million Americans who do not vote that by not voting they make it possible for people who do not agree with them, do not support their aspirations to call the shots. (Applause.)
Earlier this month, I went to Texas Southern University to speak out against systematic efforts to disempower and disenfranchise young people, poor people, people of color, and the elderly.
We need early voting in every state, and automatic, universal voter registration. (Cheers, applause.)
I think every young American when they turn 18 should be universally, automatically registered unless they say no. (Cheers, applause.)
Now, if we re-stitch the fraying fabric of our communities, we will only do so if all Americans do their part.
I grew up in the Methodist Church. My mother taught Sunday school, and made sure — part of the reason she taught Sunday school is to keep an eye on my brothers — (laughter) — who were supposed to be in Sunday school but you never knew. But she was there to make sure that they showed up in their classes.
But she also made sure we heard the wisdom of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” (Applause.)
And that meant more than prayer. It meant we had to step out of the church, roll up our sleeves and get to work.
I was blessed with a wonderful youth minister who took some of us into Chicago to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. I grew up in an all-white, middle class suburb. I didn’t have a black friend, neighbor or classmate until I went to college. And I am so blessed to have had so many in my life since. But I leapt at the chance to hear Dr. King’s words with my own ears.
The sermon that evening was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Revolution.” Dr. King challenged us to stay engaged in the cause of justice, not to slumber while the world changed around us.
I think that’s good advice for all of us today. We should all commit to stay awake and stay active, to do our part, in our families, our businesses, unions, houses of worship, schools, and yes, in the voting booth.
Never stop working for a stronger, more prosperous, more just, more inclusive America.
Government has a big part of the responsibility to promote growth, fairness and justice, but so do all of us.
So in quiet moments in the days ahead, in honest conversations, let’s talk about what each of us can and should do. Because ultimately, this is really all about the habits of our hearts, how we treat each other, how we learn to see the humanity in those around us, and how we teach our children to see that humanity, too.
And we don’t have to look far for examples. Those nine righteous men and women who invited a stranger into their midst, to study the bible with them, somehow who did not look like them, someone they had never seen before.
Their example and their memory show us the way. Their families, their church does as well.
So let us be resolved to make sure they did not die in vain.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Thank you and God bless you.”
July 20, 2015: Hillary Clinton Facebook Q&A
WESLEY LOWERY: You chose not to speak at Netroots Nation this weekend, two of your Democratic primary rivals did — both were interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters, who asked: “As the leader of this nation, will you advance a racial justice agenda that will dismantle — not reform, not make progress — but will begin to dismantle structural racism in the United States?” How would you have answered?
HILLARY CLINTON: Black lives matter. Everyone in this country should stand firmly behind that. We need to acknowledge some hard truths about race and justice in this country, and one of those hard truths is that that racial inequality is not merely a symptom of economic inequality. Black people across America still experience racism every day. Since this campaign started, I’ve been talking about the work we must do to address the systemic inequities that persist in education, in economic opportunity, in our justice system. But we have to do more than talk – we have to take action. For example – we should make sure every police department in the US has body cameras. We should provide alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders. We should invest in early childhood education for every child. We should fight for voting rights and universal voter registration. You will continue to hear me talking about these issues throughout this campaign and pushing for real solutions. –H
July 31, 2015: National Urban League Annual Conference
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
“Good morning. Good morning. Wow. This is a great way to start my day. And I’m delighted to be here with you. I want to thank Marc for not only the introduction, but all of his work over the years. I have been a fan of Marc’s since he was mayor of New Orleans. He did great work there – and he’s doing great work at the National Urban League. So thank you, Marc. And we’re all thinking, as I hope we do every year, about New Orleans as we near the 10th anniversary of Katrina. Something like that should never be allowed to happen in the United States of America again. So we have to keep learning the lessons and re-pledging our commitment.
I want to thank everyone for welcoming me here today. I want to give a shout-out to your national chairman of the board Michael Neidorff; also, backstage I saw a longtime friend of mine, Congressman Alcee Hastings; and Alexis Herman, who served in my husband’s administration; and Tony West, who served in President Obama’s administration. There’s a veritable hall of fame here for this event. And I can never come to a National Urban League gathering without mentioning my lifelong friend Vernon Jordan. He may not be here today, but he’s with us in spirit because of his deep love and commitment to this organization.
It’s also close to my heart. Over the years, I’ve gotten the chance to work with you, learn from you. I’ve pored over your State of Black America reports, I’ve spoken at your conferences, but most importantly, I’ve seen how you change people’s lives.
The theme of this conference – “Saving Our Cities: Education, Jobs and Justice” – speaks to the important work that you’ve been doing for decades. I know that you help black entrepreneurs get start-up capital. I know you help people find jobs. I know you give families financial counseling so they can achieve their dreams of buying a home or sending their kids to college. And you make sure parents have the tools to take care of their kids’ health. That’s the kind of day-to-day commitment that makes such a difference. As you help prepare young people for college and work in a world that can sometimes make them feel that they’re not very important, you make sure they know just how precious and powerful they really are.
This vital work has been my work too. My first job out of law school wasn’t at some big law firm; it was with the Children’s Defense Fund, started by Marian Wright Edelman. That first summer after I graduated, I went door to door for kids shut out of school and denied the education they deserve. I also began a lifelong concern by working with the CDF to try to figure out what we did with kids caught up in the juvenile and adult prison systems. As First Lady, I helped create the Children’s Health Insurance Program. You were an ally in doing that. As Senator, I championed small businesses owned by women and people of color, because that’s where a lot of the jobs in America come from. I fought to raise the minimum wage – because no one who works hard in America should have to raise their kids in poverty.
These issues – your issues – are deeply personal to me. So I’m here early on this morning, first and foremost, to say thank you. But I’m also here to talk about the future – because the work you have been doing is more important than ever, and I’m going to keep doing that work right alongside you.
Now, I would love nothing more than to stay and have a conversation for hours, going into depth about every single issue that we are worried about, but you have a full slate of speakers that will follow me. So let me make three points about the work we need to do together.
First: The opportunity gap that America is facing is not just about economic inequality. It is about racial inequality. (Applause.) Now, that may seem obvious to you, but it bears underscoring because some of the evidence that backs it up would come as a shock to many Americans. Like how African Americans are nearly three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage. Or how, in 2013, the median wealth for white families was more than $134,000 – but for African American families, it was just $11,000.
A lot of people don’t realize that our schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968. Or even that African Americans are sentenced to longer prison terms than white people for the same crimes. Or that political operatives are trying every trick in the book to prevent African Americans from voting. (Applause.)
And listen to this one, because as somebody who started with the Children’s Defense Fund and who now is the proud and delighted grandmother of a 10-month-old granddaughter – African American children are 500 percent – 500 percent – more likely to die from asthma than white kids. Now, I studied and advocated and introduced legislation to close health disparities. I knew how severe they were, but 500 percent?
So all of this points to an unavoidable conclusion: race. Race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind. And yes, while that’s partly a legacy of discrimination that stretches back to the start of our nation, it is also because of discrimination that is still ongoing.
I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. You understand this better than I do – better than anyone. But I want to say it anyway. Because I’m planning to be President, and anyone who seeks that office has a responsibility to say it. (Applause.) And more than that, to grapple with the systemic inequities that so many Americans face. Anyone who asks for your vote should try their hardest to see things as they actually are, not just as we want them to be. So I want you to know I see it and I hear you. (Applause.) And the racial disparity you work hard every day to overcome go against everything I believe in, and everything I want to help America achieve.
The second point is this: This is not just about statistics, as damning as they can be. This is about Americans doing some soul-searching and holding ourselves to account. This is about all of us looking into our hearts, examining our assumptions and fears, and asking ourselves: What more can I do in my life to counter hate and injustice? How can I make our country a better, fairer place?
Let me be clear: I think all of us need to do that kind of introspection. But those of us who have not experienced systemic racial inequities – we have an extra obligation. We need to do a better job of listening when people talk about the seen and unseen barriers they face every day. We need to practice humility, rather than assume that our experiences are everyone’s experiences. (Applause.) And yes, we need to try, as best we can, to walk in one another’s shoes – to imagine what it would be like to sit our son down and have “the talk,” or if people followed us around stores, or locked their car doors when we walked past.
That empathy – that’s what makes it possible for people from every background, every race, every religion, to come together as one nation. That’s the kind of generosity of spirit that makes a country like America endure. And given what we’ve seen and experienced over the last two years, this is an urgent call for people to search their own hearts and minds.
Here’s my third point: We’ve arrived at a moment when all these challenges are in sharp relief, and we have to seize it. Too many times now, Americans have come together, in shock and horror, to process a violent, senseless tragedy. Like Trayvon Martin, shot to death not in some empty, desolate street somewhere, but in a gated community. He wasn’t a stranger, he had family there. Or Sandra Bland, a college-educated young woman who knew her rights, who didn’t do anything wrong, but still ended up dying in a jail cell. Together, we’ve mourned Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray, and most recently, Sam Dubose. These names are emblazoned on our hearts. We’ve seen their faces, we’ve heard their grieving families. We’ve seen a massacre in Charleston, and black churches set on fire – today, in 2015.
But thankfully, tragedy is not all we have seen. Yes, the Confederate battle flag came down finally in South Carolina. (Applause.) The families of the Charleston victims reached out with extraordinary grace to the man who killed their loved ones. And President Obama delivered a eulogy that sounded as though it had come straight from angels, ending with Amazing Grace. (Applause.) Young people have taken to the streets, dignified and determined, urging us to affirm the basic fact that black lives matter. (Applause.) And because of people across this country sharing their stories with courage and strength, a growing number of Americans are realizing what many of you have been saying for a long time – we can’t go on like this; we are better than this; things must change.
Now, it’s up to us to build on that momentum, and we all have to do our part – but those of us who strive to lead have a special responsibility.
I’m very pleased that many presidential candidates will be here today to address you. It is a signal that the work you’ve been doing – laboring in the vineyards for decades – is getting the political attention it deserves. But the real test of a candidate’s commitment is not whether we come to speak at your national conference, as important as that is. It’s whether we’re still around after the cameras are gone and the votes are counted. (Applause.) It’s whether our positions live up to our rhetoric.
And too often we see a mismatch between what some candidates say in venues like this, and what they actually do when they’re elected. I don’t think you can credibly say that everyone has a “right to rise” and then say you’re for phasing out Medicare or for repealing Obamacare. People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care. (Applause.) They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on. They can’t rise if their governor makes it harder for them to get a college education. And you cannot seriously talk about the right to rise and support laws that deny the right to vote. (Applause.)
So yes, what people say matters, but what they do matters more. Americans, especially today, deserve leaders who will face inequity, race and justice issues in all their complexity head on – who won’t just concede that there are barriers holding people back, who will do instead what it takes to tear those barriers down, once and for all.
I will never stop working on issues of equality and opportunity, race and justice. That is a promise. I’ve done it my entire adult life. I will always be in your corner. Because issues like these – they are why I’m running for president. They are why I got involved in public service in the first place – to tear down the barriers that hold people back from developing their talents and achieving their dreams.
I’m asking you to hold me accountable, to hold all of us accountable. Because the work that you’re doing must lead to action. And you deserve leaders who not only get that, but who will work hard every day to make our country a better place – to make it live up to its potential and to provide the opportunities for every single child in this country to live up to his or her God-given potential.
Yes, I do have this 10-month-old grandchild now, and I’ve got to tell you – those of you who already have reached this incredible, transformational point in your lives understand this – there is nothing like it to focus you on the present. When Bill and I are with Charlotte, doing our best to babysit – the phones are off, the TV is off; we’re just focused on this miracle of life. And we’re the kind of grandparents, I’ll confess, that when she learns to clap her hands we give her a standing ovation. (Laughter.) But you see, it’s not just about our granddaughter, is it? We, of course, will do everything we can to make sure she has all the opportunities she should – as a citizen of this country, as a child of God, as a person who has the right to go as far as her hard work and talent will take her. But that’s not enough. I don’t want that just for my granddaughter. I’m the granddaughter of a factory worker who worked from the time he was a teenager to the time he retired in the Scranton lace mills. I know how blessed I’ve been, and opportunities that I had that others with just as much talent did not.
So let us tear down the barriers so no matter whose child you are or grandchild you are, you too will have the same chance. I’m proud to be your ally. I’m committed to being your partner. I will keep fighting right alongside you, today and always, to make the United States of America a country where all men and women, all boys and girls, are treated as they deserve to be – as equals. I know we can do this. I know the path ahead is not easy. But I’m absolutely convinced that we will once again join hands and make a difference for those young people who not only need a path, but need the love and embrace of a grateful nation for the contributions they each will make to a better future for us all.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)”