Hillary Clinton visited Chicago on Monday, where she met with the family members of victims of gun violence.
Among the group were the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, young African Americans whose high-profile shooting deaths have sparked national outrage, widespread protests, and heated conversations about race relations and police brutality.
Lesley McSpadden, the mother of slain Ferguson, Missouri, teenager Michael Brown, called the private meeting with the Democratic presidential hopeful “intimate and powerful.”
“Secretary Clinton came into the meeting open-minded,” McSpadden tells PEOPLE. “She seemed genuinely passionate and enthusiastic about meeting us. Secretary Clinton sat at a table with ten mothers, and some of us had stories about the loss of a child to police brutality; others talked about losing a child to senseless gun violence in neighborhoods that have sometimes three or four murders a night.”
McSpadden said Clinton gave thoughtful responses to all of the mothers, and “at one point she walked over and put her hand on my shoulder. She let me know she was familiar with me and my situation, and my child. It made me feel like this isn’t just someone running for president. This is somebody who is compassionate and feels what I’m saying. She was real.”
Clinton also discussed with the mothers the larger issues that connect each of their heartbreaking stories – “the epidemic of gun violence which demands common sense gun reforms” and “the sense of distrust that too often exists between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” a Clinton aide said.
“Hillary and the family members discussed the need to deliver real reforms that can be felt on our streets and that can rebuild the bonds of trust in our communities,” the aide added.
“[Clinton] sees the same problems in our society that we see, and [she] knows we are all dealing with the effects of a broken justice system,” said McSpadden, whose son Michael was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014.
“The laws need to, and must change with the times, so that the same thing doesn’t keep happening over and over again,” McSpadden added. “Just like us, as a mother, she feels disgusted and her heart hurts with us. No, she doesn’t have a son, but she has a child, and now a grandchild. As a parent, you know that sometimes your child is going to go out and you’re not going to know where they are, or what they’re doing – but you don’t expect them not to come back home.”
McSpadden has been speaking out ever since the death of her child, and has previously questioned why police didn’t subdue her high school graduate son with a club or stun gun.
“That’s the same thing with a police officer. When he or she goes to work, you expect them to do their job to the best of their ability, and you expect them to come back home. But with that, I expect the person of authority to always be in control of a situation. So, we do need to change our policing policies and training, and the way these things are handled on a state and local level.”
“What will stay in my heart and mind is that she told us we can hold her to her word. It meant a lot that she didn’t make the meeting sad. She didn’t make you go back and relive that day she was all about moving forward.”