An activist from Charlotte confronted Hillary Clinton Wednesday night, Feb. 24, at a private fundraiser in Charleston, calling her to account for remarks about crime dating back to 1996 and asking for an apology for the high incarceration rate for black Americans.
Ashley Williams, 23, along with a colleague, gained access to the private fundraiser. An undisclosed person paid the $500 it cost to get them into the event, which the Clinton campaign did not disclose to media ahead of time.
Williams, a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, placed themselves in front of the candidate and held a sign reading, “We have to bring them to heel,” along with the hashtag #WhichHillary, which is being used across social media by those wishing to call attention to what they say is a tendency for the politician to flip-flop on key issues over the years.
Clinton noticed Williams and read their sign aloud. The comments come from a speech where Clinton repeated the theory of “super predators.”
“They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” Clinton said in a speech at Keene State College in New Hampshire. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
As Clinton read her own words on the sign – although it is not clear if she knew that they were her’s – Williams called on her to apologize.
“We want you to apologize for mass incarcerations,” Williams said.
“Okay, we’ll talk about it,” Clinton responded.
“I’m not a super predator, Hillary Clinton,” Williams continued, adding, “Can you apologize to black people for mass incarceration?”
“Can I talk, and maybe then you can listen to what I say?” Clinton shot back.
“Absolutely,” Williams said, while those in attendance began to grow testy, hiss and tell them they were being rude and inappropriate.
“As a black queer person, I understand how I don’t always get to be in control of how I’m perceived in spaces,” Williams said in an interview Thursday with The Washington Post. “I’m especially not always in control of the way I’m perceived when I’m raising my voice to speak out against injustices. So I’m not surprised that I was told that I was being rude.”
“I thought that quote was important not only because it was her own words, but because that was her pathologizing black youth as these criminal, animal people,” Williams said in that same interview. “And we know that’s not right and we know that’s really racist.”
Williams was escorted out of the event, while Clinton said, “You know what? Nobody’s ever asked me before. You’re the first person to do that, and I’m happy to address it.” She never did.
However, she did reach out to several news outlets, including The Washington Post, saying she regretted using the term super predators and highlighting her work “lifting up children and young people who’ve been let down by the system or by society, kids who never got the chance they deserved.”
“And unfortunately today, there are way too many of those kids, especially in African-American communities,” Clinton continued in the statement. “We haven’t done right by them. We need to. We need to end the school to prison pipeline and replace it with a cradle-to-college pipeline.”
While it has been reported that Williams is with Black Lives Matter, they have said that they are in fact an “independent organizer for the movement for black lives.”
The term super predators comes from researchers in the 1990s who were attempting to explain the rise in violent crimes by youth, especially in urban areas, and has since been debunked and criticized for its coded racial language that compared minorities to animals.
“All the candidates who are running for president need to be held to the same kind of scrutiny in terms of the way that they have been complicit in mass incarceration and damaging communities of color across the United States,” Williams said, adding that her rival, Bernie Sanders, was also fair game.
Sanders voted for the 1994 crime law signed by then President Bill Clinton, which had a disproportionate impact on African American communities, and which was one of the protester’s main issues. The Clinton campaign was quick to point out Sanders’ vote in favor of the law.
The Sanders campaign responded, saying he voted for the law to due to provisions within it to preserve an assault weapons ban and domestic violence protections for women.
“When this so-called crime bill was being considered, Bernie Sanders criticized its harsh incarceration and death penalty provisions,” Bernie Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement. “Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, resorted to dog whistle politics and dehumanizing language.
“Bernie Sanders has always known jails and incarceration are not the answer. Nor is heated rhetoric against young people of any race. You can’t throw vulnerable people under the bus just because it’s politically expedient.”
His comments on the floor when discussing the bill at the time spoke out against the neglect of the poor, which he said was the cause to the effect of increased crime.
“Mr. Speaker, how do we talk about the very serious crime problem in America without mentioning that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, by far, with 22 percent of our children in poverty and 5 million who are hungry today? Do the Members think maybe that might have some relationship to crime?” He asked.
“All the jails in the world, and we already imprison more people per capita than any other country, and all of the executions in the world, will not make that situation right. We can either educate or electrocute. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails,” He continued.
The Democratic primary is held in South Carolina tomorrow, Feb. 27.
It takes place on Mar. 15 in North Carolina.