Reporters and voters have so far gotten few glimpses of Hillary Clinton speaking candidly. One of the few examples available is in the videotape and transcript of her meeting with Black Lives Matter protesters in New Hampshire last week.
Clinton handled herself adeptly, but her effort to propitiate the protesters spotlights a problem Democrats face — appeasing a movement whose premises are factually questionable and whose tactics are off-putting to many voters.
The candidate was attacked for her husband’s acceptance of welfare reform (“disasters in impoverished communities of color”) and “the domestic and international War on Drugs.” Clinton said that these policies were adopted in a period of high crime and were responses to concerns of “communities of color and poor people.” As she put it: “There was a different set of concerns back in the ’80s and early ’90s.”
Now, she went on, it’s sensible to ask whether these policies are still needed. Crime is far lower, and there’s a bipartisan movement, supported by the Black Congressional Caucus and Right on Crime supporters such as Rick Perry and Jeb Bush, to reduce overlong prison sentences. This is a reasonable and politically saleable response.
Then came a long question, cut short by a third person, denouncing “the anti-black current that is America’s first drug” and declaring “America’s first drug is free black labor.” Clinton agreed “this country has still not recovered from its original sin” and said Americans have to “admit they’re part of a long history … of condoning discrimination, segregation, et cetera.”
Actually, Americans have no trouble doing that. Schools may inappropriately ignore the Founding Fathers, but they appropriately teach about slavery and abolitionism, the evils of segregation and achievements of the civil rights movement. We celebrate Black History Month every year and have recently been commemorating the 50th anniversary of civil rights legislation. The state of Alabama, once a big part of the problem, now promotes tourism to civil rights sites.
But beyond a “reckoning,” Clinton said, “there has to be some positive vision and plan that you can move people toward.” To which her interlocutors had little to say beyond “this is and has always been a white problem of violence.”
That’s not surprising, since Black Lives Matter is based on an untruth — the idea that there is an epidemic of white police unjustifiably killing black men. There are such incidents, like the one in North Charleston, South Carolina, which are promptly prosecuted. Some are not, but they are unusual and there is certainly no epidemic. The incident that started it all — much-ballyhooed death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — turned out to be a case of justifiable self-defense against an attacker, as even the Obama Justice Department concluded.
The continuing prevalence of white-on-black violence is also the theme of journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates’ best-selling book “Between the World and Me.” But as reviewers have noted, the book recounts many instances of black-on-black violence — the author being beaten by his father and threatened by neighborhood thugs, a college friend being killed by a black policeman — but the only white-on-black violence is when the author’s dawdling son is pushed aside on an escalator on the Upper West Side of New York.
The unhappy fact is that blacks are far more likely than average to commit violent crimes, and that nearly all black homicide victims are killed by blacks. Coates and members of the Black Lives Matter movement explain black-on-black violence as the inevitable result of American slavery, segregation and officially sanctioned or condoned violence. Blacks may be committing the acts, but the blame should be placed on (in Coates’ phrase) “people who call themselves white.”
But how can that be remedied now? Coates, in a 16,000-word Atlantic article, urged billions of dollars of reparations from whites to blacks. That’s not going to be endorsed by Hillary Clinton or any other presidential candidate.
The policy result that we have seen so far, most notably in Baltimore after the death of a suspect in custody, is for police to refrain from active patrol and to abandon the tactics, originated by Rudy Giuliani and copied and adapted by many others, that have helped produce the astonishing reduction in violent crime over the last 20 years. Baltimore has suffered more murders so far this year than in all of 2014, and murder rates have spiked upward in New York, Washington, D.C., and many other cities.
It’s not clear whether this will be an enduring national trend. But if so, then the main effect of the Black Lives Matter movement may be to create political conditions in which violent crime flourishes — and to raise doubts about the criminal justice reforms being advocated by many Republicans and Democrats, Hillary Clinton included.