In Philly, Clinton Decries “Senseless” Killings in Dallas, Louisiana, Minnesota
Hillary Clinton stood before a crowd gathered to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Friday evening and addressed a week of stunning violence around the country that included the shootings of two black men by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota as well as a deadly attack on police in Dallas.
“We know there is something wrong in this country,” said Clinton. “There is too much violence, too much hate, too much senseless killing. Too many people dead who shouldn’t be.”
Clinton, who is expected to accept the Democratic nomination in Philadelphia this month, called on Americans to work together to mend the country, to listen to each other, and to oppose violence. She stressed the need for police to build strong community relations and receive better training on the use of force, while also encouraging Americans to put themselves in the shoes of police officers, whose jobs require them to put themselves in harm’s way.
“Elie Wiesel, who died last week, once clarified for us that the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference,” said Clinton. “And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. None of us can afford to feel indifferent to each other. Not now, not ever.”
On Tuesday, two police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were captured on film tackling a man named Alton Sterling, who was selling CDs outside a convenience store, and shooting him dead. On Wednesday night, an officer outside St. Paul, Minnesota, shot a man named Philando Castile during a traffic stop. Castile’s girlfriend streamed video of the moments after the shooting live on Facebook.
The gruesome videos shocked viewers and reignited calls for police reforms around the country. Black Lives Matter protesters held demonstrations in Philadelphia and other cities throughout the nation.
On Thursday night, while activists marched in Dallas to protest those two shootings, at least one sniper killed five police officers and wounded seven more. Dallas police eventually killed that suspect by detonating a robotic bomb.
In her speech Friday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Clinton grieved for the officers killed in Dallas, and for Sterling and Castile. “Last night in Dallas, during a peaceful protest related to those killings, there was a vicious, appalling attack,” she said.
Clinton named black men around the country who have died in police-involved incidents in recent years, including Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by police in New York while being arrested for selling loose cigarettes, and Freddie Gray, who died after a ride in a police van in Baltimore. She also named Brandon Tate-Brown, who was shot and killed by Philadelphia police in 2014, and whose mother was reportedly in attendance during the speech.
“There is clear evidence that African-Americans are much more likely to be killed in police incidents than any other group of Americans,” she said. “And we know there is too little trust in too many places between police and the communities they are sworn to protect.
“White Americans need to do a better job of listening when African-Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers you face everyday,” she added. “We need to try as best we can to walk in one another’s shoes, to imagine what it would feel like if people followed us around stores or locked their car doors when we walked past.”
Clinton promised to find $1 billion to dedicate to police training and creating national guidelines on the use of police force if elected president.
The convention hall, which had seats for around 11,000, according to conference organizers, was a little less than half full. Clinton got her biggest applause of the night when she read a speech from Galatians. She spoke after introductions by AME Church officials, who also decried racially charged violence and the profiling of black communities by police.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of having to explain to a six-year-old black boy why he is a threat to America, when he is not,” said Vashti McKenzie, who was the first woman to be elected bishop in the AME Church in 2000.
Some in the audience at the church conference were pleased that Clinton identified a plan to address police brutality and bias, and others were skeptical, not necessarily of her will, but of the country’s readiness to move forward with her initiatives.
“We can only hope that what Hillary said will happen,” said Judy Fultz, an AME delegate from Lawrenceville, Georgia, citing Clinton’s proposal to develop a national policy that would clearly define excessive police force. “Politicians and candidates make all of these promises all the time and things are always slow to change, if they ever do.”
In the same vein, one audience member expressed concern that Clinton will experience similar difficulties faced by President Barack Obama.
“I enjoy her. She inspires me. Her words were powerful tonight, but they’re just trying to do her like they were trying to do Obama, calling him a one-term president,” said Sandra Burdette, a delegate from Decatur, Georgia, adding that she was initially reluctant to vote for Clinton.
Clinton’s description of a biased and indifferent American psyche and her declaration that “something is wrong with the country” resonated with other congregants who said they were broken by the events that transpired this week and in months and years past. Last June, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof killed nine black congregants at an AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“It’s open season on black people and there’s no end in sight,” said Rev. Traci Blalock Phillips, the mother of two black boys. “We’re treated like second-class citizens, but it’s our blood, sweat and tears that have made this country first-class,” adding, “I’m glad Clinton helped me ease some of the pain I was feeling.”
Friday was a tense day around the country, including in Philadelphia. Flags at the Pennsylvania capital were flown at half-mast in honor of the officers who were killed in Dallas. Local officials sent condolences to the victims’ families, and protests were planned around the city.
One group, called Philly Stand Up, was planning a march starting at 5 p.m. at Broad and Erie in North Philly. Another group, called the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice, was planning a protest at 6 p.m.
Earlier in the day, AME Church members at the Convention Center campaigned for bishops and other officials in church elections. The Church is celebrating its 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in Philadelphia by Bishop Richard Allen. It was incorporated in 1816. It has around 2.5 million members worldwide, according to the World Council of Churches.
A choir sang hymns while conference-goers filtered in prior to Clinton’s arrival. Church officials spoke about the violence of the preceding days.
“This has been a rough week,” said Senior Bishop John Bryant. “I mean, it’s been a rough week for peace. When we can see on our televisions in living color police being gunned down, it’s been a rough week. When we can see police gunning others down, it’s been a rough week.”
Additional reporting by Fabiola Cineas.
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