Tony Come Lately?

Francis: Candidates — local and national — suddenly discover that black lives matter.

Hillary Clinton, left; Philly Jesus and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.

Hillary Clinton, left; Philly Jesus and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.

As a full supporter of the #BlackLivesMatterMovement, I wield a hefty amount of skepticism towards any candidate’s newfound interest or consciousness on this matter — whether in local elections or in the early going of the presidential campaign.

State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams wants to be your next mayor, Philadelphia. As the “Philly is Baltimore” solidarity movement took to the city streets last week, Williams could be seen out amongst the swaths of people. His campaign promise? Zero tolerance.

“I would have a character clause” in police contracts, Williams is reported as saying during a business forum held last month. “You don’t get to come back for arbitration.”

Eliminating the use of hate speech is an interesting idea, but language certainly does not always correlate to intent. There are a lot of bigots out there who’d be smart enough to mind their mouths, or who play the PC game well enough to not even consider themselves bigoted at all.

It’s a valiant effort, but hardly enough to create real change in communities and the laws that police them. 

On Wednesday, former president Bill Clinton admitted that the prison-reform legislation signed during his tenure in office is responsible for the country’s current mass-incarceration climate, one that disproportionally affects African Americans.

“The problem is the way it was written and implemented is we cast too wide a net and we had too many people in prison,” Clinton said Wednesday. “And we wound up…putting so many people in prison that there wasn’t enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out so they could live productive lives.”

Anyone familiar with the prison-industrial complex knows that mass incarceration has become profitable big business, which has detrimental effects on the communities that the incarcerated leave behind.

And speaking of Clintons, Hillary Clinton wants to be your president, America. The finally-official-but-we’re-all-going-to-pretend-we-didn’t-see-it-coming presidential candidate has offered some strong words on the issue as well:

“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,” Clinton said following the days of protest in Baltimore. “There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.”

Hillary Clinton, who has called for police officers to wear body cameras and has stated “Yes, black lives matter” on the record, is pulling few punches straight out the gate. It’s somewhat unbelievable to see a modern major candidate speak directly about race, discriminatory policing, and how they relate to sentencing and the need for prison reform.

Frankly, I will not tether my hopes too closely to either candidate — locally or nationally.

Politicians politic. The best of them are great orators and savvy socialites. The strongest have solid campaign strategies and skillful speechwriters. I’ve been in the room with Williams; he’s well-rehearsed. Clinton has enough resources at her disposal to have made her a brand long before the debut of that awful logo of hers.

Whether locally or nationally, “Black Lives Matter” — and will continue to matter long after the polls close. Whether or not they’ll continue to matter to the candidates? Time will tell.

Follow Maya K. Francis on Twitter.