‘Mothers of the Movement’ Stump For Hillary in North Philly

"There's power in the black vote," Gwen Carr, Eric Garner's mother, told a crowd at a North Philly church.

Gwen Carr, Eric Garner's mother (left), moderator Christopher Norris and Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton (right) discuss the deaths of their sons at the hands of police.

Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother (left), and Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontre Hamilton (right) discuss the deaths of their sons at the hands of police with moderator Christoper Norris.

Hillary Clinton really wanted to talk to Gwen Carr, but Carr wasn’t much interested.

Ever since Carr’s son, Eric Garner, died after a New York police officer put him in a chokehold during an attempted arrest in July of 2014, triggering national outrage,  she’s been wary of politicians who have expressed an interest in striking up a conversation. “A lot of people are opportunists,” Carr told a group of about two dozen people in the basement of  New Vision United Methodist Church in North Philadelphia on Friday night.

So when staffers for the Democratic presidential nominee reached out to Carr last year, she blew them off. “[Clinton] had been trying to get in touch with me,” she said, “and I had been ignoring her.” She eventually agreed to meet with Clinton last November, along with relatives of other young men who had lost their lives to gun violence or questionable police shootings. And she walked away genuinely impressed.

Clinton jotted down numerous handwritten notes during the meeting, and Carr was surprised to later hear suggestions she and other attendees made about criminal justice reforms emerge in some of Clinton’s speeches. “She remembered,” Carr said. “She left with a little bit of all of us, because she’s a mother and a grandmother.”

Carr’s anecdote painted Clinton as a presidential candidate — well, the only one, really — who has a legitimate interest in addressing the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement. Similar sentiments were shared by Marie Hamilton, whose son, Dontre Hamilton, who was shot 14 times and killed by a Milwaukee police officer in April 2014. Dontre Hamilton had a history of mental illness; he was unarmed and had been sleeping in a public park when he was gunned down. “My child is dead because he was black,” Hamilton said. “Nobody’s going to jail.”

Both women are among the Mothers of the Movement, some of whom spoke on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philly back in July, and they urged everyone in the white-walled basement of the church to get out and vote for Clinton on November 8th. (Carr and Hamilton are going be joined in Philly tomorrow at another Clinton campaign event by Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, who was arrested in Texas in July 2015 for refusing to get out of her car and put out her cigarette after she was pulled over by a state trooper. Bland was found hanged in her cell while she was behind bars following her arrest.)

Tables in the room were arranged in a rectangle, ringed with Clinton’s blue “Stronger Together” campaign signs. The faces that stared back at Carr and Hamilton were lined with frustration and sorrow. Mothers in Charge founder Dorothy Johnson-Speight patiently walked a microphone around to each attendee; nearly everyone had a tragic story to share of having lost a loved one to neighborhood gun violence or a police-involved shooting.

When the church hosted a town hall meeting about stop-and-frisk policies earlier this year with Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross, the dialogue quickly grew heated. But the discussion on Friday was quiet and polite; most people murmured along in agreement when Carr and Hamilton discussed the hope Clinton represented, and the threat posed by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “law and order” candidate.

There was talk about wanting to see greater transparency in law enforcement, for special prosecutors to probe police shootings instead of local district attorneys, for black-on-black violence to be addressed with greater passion. There wasn’t nearly enough time to pull apart all of these issues, so Carr returned to a simple message: change will only come if people show up at the polls, and then devote themselves to holding elected officials accountable. “There’s power in the black vote,” she said.

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