By Caroline Kenny
At the Parkway Ballroom in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, Hillary Clinton spoke about police brutality and mass incarceration on Wednesday morning, rallying the African-American vote that she needs to overcome her opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
During a speech to elected officials, members of the clergy and residents in the audience, Clinton encouraged her supporters to take advantage of early voting for the state’s March primary and make sure they know that she is the candidate that will advocate for them and their loved ones affected by racism.
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On Tuesday, Clinton met with key members of the African-American community, including Rev. Al Sharpton, and the heads of several other civil rights organizations in Harlem, New York. She continued this swing as she spoke on Chicago’s South Side and showcased her endorsements from several African-American members of the United States House of Representatives from Illinois, including U.S. Reps Robin Kelly and Danny Davis.
Clinton was joined on stage by Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland. Bland died last summer in a Texas jailhouse after being arrested during a routine traffic stop. Her death sparked national outrage and contributed to the heightened awareness of African-American brutality at the hands of police officers across the country.
“She is selfless in sitting down with a room full of mothers who have violently lost their sons and daughters,” Reed-Veal said in an original poem she recited while introducing Clinton. “I’m one of those mothers who met with her and was able to make it through.”
Speaking about the issues of police brutality and mass incarceration brought about loud cheers for Clinton from the Chicago crowd. The city has been home to its own major police brutality ordeal since November, when a police tape was released that showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot to death 16 times in 13 seconds by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.
Before the event, many members of the audience attributed their longtime support for Clinton to the fact that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was a champion for African-Americans in the 1990s during his tenure in the Oval Office.
“He did so many great things for us and helped us economically after [President George H. Bush], and then it all came crashing down with Bush Number Two,” said Valerie Elkins, a South Side resident who came out to support Clinton. “We need to continue the Clinton legacy because it has proved us well and will prove us well.”
Locking down the African-American vote is crucial for Clinton going into the Nevada caucus on Feb. 20 and South Carolina primary on Feb. 27. Both states are home to large minority populations and differ from the demographics of early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, which resulted in a virtual tie and a 20-point win by Sanders, respectively.
Chicago voters will vote in the Illinois primary on March 15, in which Democrats will be able to choose their choice for the Democratic presidential nomination between Clinton and Sanders.