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Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’

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Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

When asked about race in the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton talked about the black church, black businesses and black families while her opponent Donald Trump harped on her previous remark of young African-Americans as superpredators. These comments point to how both parties are vying for the African-American vote.

Hillary Clinton is relying on her core constituency within the black community, namely those who are older and more elite.  Trump, on the other hand, seems to be going after a different segment of the black community. On one level, he looks like he is trying to court the votes of blacks who are in the ‘inner city.’ He keeps talking about how chronic the conditions of the inner city is and how dangerous it is. But then he will turn around and seemingly negate whatever support he might have mustered by supporting stop and frisk. What he gives with one hand, he taketh away in another. At first glance, it seems incoherent but I would argue that it does make sense.

Jamelle Bouie’s work has been somewhat illuminating. He argues that when Trump is addressing issues that impact black communities, he is in fact trying to court white voters. But his remark about Clinton’s use of superpredators is not directed toward white voters. Rather I would argue that Trump’s remark about superpredators is his attempt at exacerbating a divide that already existed within the black community.

There have been a variety of news reports indicating a generational gap amongst African-Americans. In Ferguson, Missouri, there were news reports that “some of the younger activists remain skeptical of their older counterparts.” During a rally in Washington D.C., people who went for the protests against police brutality were critiquing how Al Sharpton was conducting the protests. Whether it was creating a VIP section within the protest or denying popular young activists the opportunity to speak during the rally, many who came to the protest were shocked at Sharpton’s leadership skills. One protestor tweeted out, “Fact is they don’t recognize those young leaders on sight + don’t know their names. THAT is disrespectful.”

This sentiment is being heard across the country. In an interview for the New York Times, Brooklyn resident Manushka Magloire commented:

There is such a generational gap that’s going on…there really is nobody doing that for the voice of the young, there is nobody galvanizing the energy that is out there in the streets. I would never take away from leaders that we have had step up, such as Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. Within their own rights, they have done a great deal to advance a movement here in America. But there is a huge generation gap between these leaders of the old world if you will, old stalwarts, they are not of the now, they don’t speak the language that we speak and it’s just hard to really meet somewhere in the middle because it is as if you are talking to your uncle or grandfather.

Perhaps the brashest comment came from a protestor in Ferguson when he interrupted the live feed from CNN to say, “Fuck CNN.” Although this kind of interruption is often parodied and mocked, it actually was described in a more positive light. One headline included ‘Ferguson Protestor Says What We’re All Thinking: “Fuck CNN.” Political pundit Tariq Ali wrote in the London Review of Books:

We need a break and perhaps this generation will provide one…Most of the traditional black leaders capitulated without shame to the Obama White House. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are two of the better known names, the latter now trying to hustle a quick march on DC to regain at least one credential. The black caucus in Congress is loyal to White House and Wall Street alike. A similar situation exists for the rest of the country. People feel unrepresented. The anger over the recent deaths reflects, I think, a growing disgust with a system in which nothing changes regardless of who is elected.

Even Charles Blow, an editorialist for the New York Times is willing to acknowledge that the older generation might be better off following than trying to lead:

This is a moment of civic awakening and moral maturing for a generation, and they are stepping boldly into their moment. Yes, they are struggling to divine the most effective way forward, but they will not accept being dragged backward. It is a profound moment to which we should gladly bear witness.

Trump is trying to exploit this generational divide in order to get people not to vote for Clinton. It is an interesting ploy that often gets obscured by the myriad of comments Trump makes but could partly explain why Clinton is having a hard time getting the youth vote.

Trump’s constant needling of this point is effective as long as Clinton keeps toeing the same line. It energizes his base while depresses hers. Granted, Trump’s adamant support for stop-and-frisk runs the risk of politicizing those he is trying to alienate. But it is also the case that at this point in the race, Clinton probably cannot take back what she said and offer an apology in the way she did with the email scandal. But what she can do is double down on supporting victims of police violence. After the shooting in North Carolina, her support in the state went down and Trump’s went up. It would seem to be the case that Trump’s message resonates more there than Clinton’s.

Granted, Trump’s recommendations have been proven to not work but they are nevertheless clearer. Clinton’s message about community policing does not resonate because it doesn’t address the concerns of those protesting in North Carolina right now. They are not concerned with community policing; they want justice for Keith Scott.

For Clinton to go any further than community policing could possibly alienate some moderates, particularly those who are more favourably inclined to support law enforcement. But the more she tries to cater to moderates, the less likely she is going to be able to shed the moniker of ‘superpredator’ and get the people who are protesting in North Carolina to vote for her in November.

Trump got the endorsement of the fraternal order of police. Clinton is not going to be able to out-police him on this matter and playing the middle is not working for her either. She is not at risk of losing the black vote as she is of not getting enough blacks to vote and if the current polls are any indication, this election is going to be close. In order to boost participation, Clinton should come out stronger in her support for victims of police violence. She talks about needing to restore trust. One of the best ways to restore trust is getting justice for those who have been shot by the police.

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