Hillary Clinton Says Confederate Flag Debate Is Just the Beginning
Less than a week after a mass shooting at a black church situated in one community with a history of racial tensions, Hillary Clinton on Tuesday visited another black church in another community struggling with racial relations.
Speaking at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri, Clinton welcomed the new push to abandon the Confederate flag but said it must be paired with renewed efforts to confront the deeper issues at the core of racial divisions, from policing to jobs to health care. That, she said, is the way to honor memories of the nine people killed last week at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church.
The shooting was "an act of racist terrorism perpetrated in a house of God," Clinton said from the pulpit here, in a St. Louis suburb that neighbors Ferguson. "Let us be resolved to make sure they did not die in vain. Do not be overcome by evil but let evil be overcome by good."
"We have a moment of opportunity right now and shame on us if we don't seize it," she later added.
Clinton said she appreciates the calls from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and other politicians to stop flying the Confederate flag on the grounds of the state capitol. "It shouldn't fly there," she said. "It shouldn't fly anywhere." She also commended Walmart, where she was once a board member, Amazon, eBay and Sears for announcing that they will stop selling the products adorned with the flag.
In an appearance that her campaign said was aimed at turning "grief, anger and despair into purpose and action," Clinton spoke to a predominantly African American group of ministers and locals, and joined a roundtable discussion that included Jason Purnell, an assistant professor at Washington University, and Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of the once-floundering Jennings School District. The church's leader Rev. Traci Blackmon, a member of the Ferguson Commission, a group working to rebuild the community and tackle some of the issues underlying last year's protests, and Rev. Karen Anderson, who heads neighboring Ward Chapel AME Church, led the discussion.
Clinton's response to the Charleston shootings reflects a significant change in strategy and her emphasis on enhanced political nimbleness. Clinton's 2008 campaign was often slow to respond to events but the current team–and the candidate herself–have taken strides to react more quickly. There are still layers of internal debates, but they generally take hours to resolve rather than days. She tweeted her condolences three hours after the Charleston shooting and used her first public appearance the next day to offer extended sympathies and begin talking about race.
The Clinton campaign had planned for weeks to have an event that would be open to press in the St. Louis area while the candidate was in town for a fundraiser hosted by an heiress to the Anheuser-Busch fortune. But Charleston's aftermath led Clinton to ask her staff over the weekend to focus the conversation on race and violence, a campaign official said.
Since Wednesday's shooting, Clinton has spoken more extensively on race relations and gun violence than any other presidential hopeful (former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has focused his energy solely on arguing for stronger gun control laws, saying that the shooting "pissed" him off). Addressing the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco on Saturday, Clinton called for "common sense" gun control and added that the election of the first black president had not brought “America’s long struggle with race" to an end. “Our problem is not all kooks and Klansmen," she said. "It's also the cruel joke that goes unchallenged. It's the offhand comment about not wanting those people in the neighborhood."
Clinton has talked through her thoughts on race with a range of people, including two top campaign staffers: senior policy adviser Maya Harris and Marlon Marshall, director of state campaigns and political engagement. Harris is a civil rights lawyer who has written about engaging women of color in the political process. Marshall grew up in Richmond Heights, a suburb about 15 miles south of Ferguson, and attended Michael Brown’s funeral on behalf of the White House, where he was deputy director of public engagement until late last year. He joined Clinton in Florissant on Tuesday.
As the debate over South Carolina's Confederate flag heated up over the weekend and on Monday, Clinton stayed quiet on the issue as her aides debated how to respond, as her spokespeople pointed reporters to comments she made in a 2007 interview, in which she said the flag should be removed from the grounds of the state capitol.
After Haley joined with other prominent Republicans in the state on Monday afternoon to call for the flag to be taken down, Clinton applauded the announcement. Haley “is right to call for removal of a symbol of hate in SC," Clinton wrote on Twitter. "As I’ve said for years, taking down Confederate flag is long overdue.”
It took 19 days for Clinton to respond to Brown’s August killing, drawing some criticism from impatient commentators, but when she did weigh in, her response was well-received by black leaders. She spoke about “the inequities that persist in our justice system” – an issue upon which she expanded in an April speech – and urged white Americans to imagine what it would be like if the criminal justice system treated them the same way it treats blacks.
(Correction: An earlier version of the story did not give the complete name of the church where Clinton spoke.)