Does BLM Want To Change Minds Or Change The Law?

Ken AshfordRace, Racial HomicidesLeave a Comment

Last week I gave a full-throated defense of myself and others who had taken issue with the tactics of Black Lives Matter.  This came in the wake of a Seattle political event involving Bernie Sanders, where two BLM activists took the stage as Sanders started speaking, and effectively hijacked the agenda (as well as hijacking Sanders).  Sander never got to speak.  In my previous post, I said it was not a good idea to attack people who are normally allied with your position, as you need to engage in coalition-building in order to effect meaningful change.

I attributed it to a generation gap within the civil rights movement.  The New York Times thinks so too.

Now BLM protesters, true to their word, are going after other candidates as well.  They attempted to do the same thing at a Hillary Clinton event, but were blocked by the Secret Service.  To her credit, Clinton met privately with the BLM protesters.  BLM made a video of the meeting and released it yesterday.

The disconnect was obvious, as CNN explains (emphases mine):

The activists filmed the encounter and released the video in twoparts on Monday night. The Clinton campaign also provided CNN with a transcript of the exchange.

The activists, led by Daunasia Yancey, founder of Black Lives Matter in Boston, pressed Clinton on her family’s role in promoting “white supremacist violence against communities of color.”

Clinton acknowledged during the conversation that laws put into place by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, did not work out as planned.

“I do think that there was a different set of concerns back in the ’80s and the early ’90s. And now I believe that we have to look at the world as it is today and try and figure out what will work now,” she said. “And that’s what I’m trying to figure out and that’s what I intend to do as president.”

But Clinton also told the protesters that she was “not sure” she agreed with the activists that her husband’s policies were racist.

“I do think that a lot of what was tried and how it was implemented has not produced the kinds of outcomes that any of us would want,” she said. “But I also believe that there are systemic issues of race and justice that go deeper than any particular law.”

The activists did not appear to be won over by their conversation with Clinton.

Yancey told reporters earlier this month that she never heard “a reflection on (Clinton’s) part in perpetuating white supremacist violence” and that Clinton “gave the answer she wanted to give.”

Two of the activists shared their disappointment with Clinton’s response on CNN on Tuesday.

“Her policy response — if it’s not addressing the anti-blackness inherent in some of the previous polices, we’re just going to see that thread continue,” Yancey said. “And that’s what we’re looking to hear. What’s shifted? What’s changed for Hillary Clinton that’s going to make us believe that she’s going to take this country in a different direction in terms of race?”

Specifically, what Clinton didn’t seem to appreciate the insinuation. “Respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems,”

I don’t understand this need of BLM to get people like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to admit things they shouldn’t admit to.  Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton were promoting white supremacist violence.  Period.  They just weren’t.  You can make the argument that was an unintended consequence of flawed policies, but to say that the Clintons were promoting white supremacy?  Simply crazy.  And good for Hillary (and Bernie) for standing their ground on that.

Over at Balloon Juice, Betty Cracker gets annoyed:

It seemed to me that the BLM Boston reps who met with Hillary were more interested in getting her to own up to her role in advocating for Bill Clinton’s anti-crime policies than discussing policymaking going forward. One of the activists, Daunasia Yancy, expressed disappointment that she didn’t hear “a reflection on (Clinton’s) part in perpetuating white supremacist violence.”

While I admire Yancy’s commitment, the mom in me found it impossible to resist the urge to face-palm when I read that comment. Clinton is a candidate for president, and you expect her to reflect on her personal role in “perpetuating white supremacist violence”? Lots of luck with that. Here is Clinton’s response to BLM’s opening salvo about systemic racism:

“Your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair. It’s psychologically fair. It’s economically fair. But you’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, ‘Here’s what we want done about it.’”

That didn’t sit well with one of the activists, Julius Jones, who basically accused Clinton of whitesplaining (not in so many words, but that was the gist) at the beginning of the second video, which can be seen here. And Clinton got a tad snippy in return.

Here’s a rough, edited-for-length transcript of the exchange referred to above:

JONES: “If you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what you need to do.”

CLINTON: “I’m not telling you, I’m just telling you to tell me.”

JONES: “This is and has always been a white problem of violence. There’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.”

CLINTON: “If that is your position, then I will talk with only to white people about how we are going to deal with very real problems.”

JONES: “What you just said was a form of victim-blaming. You were saying what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to is change white hearts is to…”

CLINTON: “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate…you’re not going to change every heart. You’re not…you may change some hearts, but if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation.”

It’s worth watching both videos, which unfold not unlike some of the discussions seen here and elsewhere.

But BLM Boston has been slamming HRC on Twitter ever since the videos were released last night.


BLM Boston has its agenda — they are idealists. Hillary Clinton has hers — she is a pragmatist. What did you think?

Spot on.  I think that is part of the disconnect.  Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are politicians.  They FIX things.  You certainly understand (and I think Clinton and Sanders understand) the anxiety and desperation of the BLM protesters they encounter.  But that just can’t be all there is to the movement, can it?  Like me, John Cole hopes not, but he doesn’t know what else to do:

[I]t’s not difficult to fear the same thing happening to BLM that happened to OWS [Occupy Wall Street]. Granted, the movements are not the same. Economic inequality lacks the urgent life or death reality that face the black community, as their lives really are at risk for just doing what white people like me do every day and don’t think twice about it. Things like driving to the grocery store, or walking down the street, or going to the pool, or, well, basically anything seems to be excuse enough to shoot a black person these days. So there is an urgency that separates the two movements.

There are also similarities- mostly structural, in that a decentralized organic movement like this has all kinds of different actors with different ideals and different attitudes towards what is productive and what is not. There is no rigid leadership structure, and were there one, it would probably kill the movement anyway. People who follow protest movements are in a much better position to discuss this than I am, so I will just stop there.

But one key similarity that OWS and BLM have in common that continues to lead to these uncomfortable Jerry Maguire/Rod Tidwell “Help me help you” moments such as the most recent video….  Economic inequality and racial inequality are such large foundations of what this country is and what we are made of that no one really knows where to start in a way that will succeed. It’s just that entrenched in our society, and the issues of racial and economic inequality are concomitantly inexorably intertwined yet disparate issues. This is, after all, a nation that was literally built on the backs of slaves, yet race is not the key reason that so much economic inequality exists.


So while we may have reached a tipping point with the populace screaming for change, the deck is so stacked against us in favor of those already with institutional and economic power that really, it’s difficult to figure out where to go and what to do, and screaming for change becomes just screaming. This is not a bug, this is by design.


So we’re back at the beginning. How do you harness the energy of movements like BLM and make actual, tangible, immediate things happen? And how do you stop people from yelling at each other when they are basically on the same side to focus the rage where it belongs- into real plans of action? If you know, you’re smarter than me. And, apparently, the Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley campaigns.

When you read of the account in Vanity Fair, you can see this is a contest of idealism versus pragmatism, with Clinton pushing the latter:

In a move that recalled some of the criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Clinton pressed the activists to come up with specific demands. She pointed to the civil-rights movement, the gay-rights movement, and the women’s-rights movements as examples of progress achieved through a detailed road map of lawsuits and actions. “You can get lip service from as many white people you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it who are going to say, ‘We get it, we get it. We are going to be nicer,’” she said. “That’s not enough, at least in my book.”

The BLM protester seems to get that.

In a second video, Jones appears to respond to Clinton’s answer by taking issue with the recommendation, arguing that the issues the Black Lives Matter movement is working on—incarceration, police use of force, systemic inequalities in the justice system—are not ones that can be fixed by actions on the part of black people. “I say this as respectfully as I can: if you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what you need to do,” Jones said. “This is and has always been a white problem of violence.”

I genuinely don’t think Clinton was telling Yancey, Jones, and the other activists that they need to come up with policy to rescue themselves from white supremacy (although I understand why Jones interpreted it that way, and I almost certainly would have done the same in the moment); I think she was saying, “Design the policy you want to see, because my role is a policymaker.”

This is the schism that I have noticed.

I can certainly understand Clinton’s response:

Clinton didn’t seem to appreciate the insinuation. “Respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems,” she said. “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not.”

“But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them to live up to their own God-given potential,” Clinton continued. “You can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through it you may actually change some hearts. But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation.”

It seems to me — and of course, I’m a white man and haven’t lived with this problem every day — that BLM isn’t set on what it wants, other than to identify the problem and make sure everyone knows what the problem is.  But some of us (me, the Clintons, Sanders) are already there, and have already been there for…. decades.  We want to SOLVE it, and I’m not sure BLM knows or cares or, most likely, believes that (perhaps they are too pessimistic to think that a solution is real or that the sincerity is real).  So then what is the next step for pragmatists?

Changes, turn and face the strain.

UPDATE:  More voices to add to the mix.  The subject is Bill Clinton’s 1994 “Tough On Crime” bill.  David Lind at Vox:

But when one activist associates the bill with a project of “white supremacist violence,” Clinton buckles. She takes it as a statement about intent: that laws like the 1994 crime bill were deliberately passed out of malice toward black communities. And so she counters that she and her husband were deeply concerned about black victims of crime, and were simply acting out of a desire to protect them…

The problem is that the conversation isn’t clear whether “extension of white supremacist violence” is about the intent of these policies or their consequences. This is a common problem with discussion of racism: Structural racism isn’t about feelings in individuals’ hearts, it’s about systems and outcomes. But it’s easy to slip from talking about systems to talking about people, and that’s what happened here.

Personally, I think the intent simply doesn’t matter. Clinton herself said, “You don’t change hearts. You change laws.” What matters is the external reality, not the feelings of the people who create it; caring about people will not save you from making policy choices that will hurt them.

In other words, iintent doesn’t matter — if law has a bad effect to black people, it is racist even if the intentions are good.

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum has the response:

Lind suggests that intent doesn’t matter. Something is racist if it has racist consequences. But I think you have to be pretty careful about that. Lind is right that, whether racially inspired or not, it’s important to face structural racism clearly and work relentlessly to overcome it. Nonetheless, intent does matter. Calling someone racist does nothing except make matters worse unless they really do have racist intent.

My point exactly.

So was the 1994 crime bill racist in intent? No. Lots of black leaders, including black mayors who faced rising crime rates daily, supported it. Violent crime really was a huge problem—and it really was especially severe in black communities. Nobody at the time knew that lead might be the culprit for this, so they simply had to address it as best they could given what they believed. So they did. The 1994 crime bill was not a white supremacist project. It was a crime bill.

At the end of her piece, Lind argues that Hillary Clinton “doesn’t need to show she’s changed her heart. But she does need to show that she has learned, and changed her mind.” This puzzles me. Hillary has defended her support of the 1994 crime bill given what she knew at the time, but she has also proposed criminal justice reforms that make it clear she has learned and has changed her mind. If those reforms are insufficient, fine. Fight for more. But both Clintons have made it clear that their views on crime have changed. There’s simply no excuse for pretending that either one of them was involved in a conspiracy of “white supremacist violence” against black communities.

I am not sure why it is so important for BLM to have politicians label themselves as racist.  It escapes me because doing so will not save one black live.