"I don't believe you change hearts," said Hillary Clinton. "I believe you change laws"

By Char Adams
Updated August 18, 2015 02:55 PM
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In recent months, Black Lives Matters activists have made their mark on campaign events, literally stealing the stage from presidential candidates like Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders. But when activists were denied access to a Hillary Clinton campaign event in New Hampshire, they took the platform backstage after the forum and engaged in an intense exchange with the Democratic candidate.

A video obtained and released in two parts by Good magazine shows organizers Julius Jones and Daunasia Yancey, surrounded by media, grilling Clinton about her part in promoting the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act (the largest crime bill in history, the act caused federal incarceration to nearly double during Bill Clinton’s presidency) and how she plans to combat racial injustice in the country.

In the above video, Clinton agrees that “this country has still not recovered from its original sin,” but she says that “in addition to getting people to have to admit that they’re a part of a long history in our country” of promoting discrimination, the activists and those involved in the movement must also “come together” to set an agenda to address the issues.

But Jones takes issue with Clinton’s response, telling the activists (and the movement as a whole) that the idea that it’s their responsibility to “change white hearts” is a “form of victim blaming.”

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

That’s when the encounter took a turn for the tense. Clinton interrupted the activist, saying, “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 …”

“Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws,” the 67-year-old added. “You change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not.”

She said that the way to ensure justice is through systemic change, adding that if all the movement does is change hearts, “we’ll be back here in ten years having the same conversation.”

Clinton was then whisked out of the room by her security detail. But Jones and Yancey appeared on MSNBC to weigh in on the encounter, holding that while the exchange was productive, they believe Clinton was “ducking personal responsibility.”

“What we were looking for from Secretary Clinton was a personal reflection on her responsibility for being part of the cause of this problem that we have today in mass incarceration,” Yancey told MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry. “So her response, really targeting on policy, wasn’t sufficient for us.”

The two said that all of the presidential candidates should expect to be challenged on the issue of social justice among black people. They added that if President Barack Obama were among the slew of candidates, he’d be challenged as well.