Mothers of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Other Young Black Men Who Lost Their Lives due to Violence Prove to be a Force for Hillary Clinton

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, campaigned with Mrs. Clinton at a town-hall-style event in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 23. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, campaigned with Mrs. Clinton at a town-hall-style event in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 23. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

The Sweet Maple Cafe in Chicago, famous for its grilled cheese sandwiches and sweet milk biscuits, typically closes each day after the lunch rush. But one evening in November, the restaurant opened for an unusual private dinner. 

The mothers of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, and a half-dozen other black women who had lost children in clashes with the police or in gun violence, were flown in from around the country and invited to gather around a table. They were joined by Hillary Clinton, who asked them, one by one, to tell her their stories.

“She took her pad and her ink pen, she wrote her own notes, and she asked us what did we need,” said Maria Hamilton, whose son Dontre was shot 14 times by a white Milwaukee police officer in 2014.

Mrs. Clinton appeared “visibly hurt” as the mothers spoke, said Lucia McBath, whose 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was fatally shot after playing loud music in his car in 2012.

The gathering, held without aides or journalists present, stretched into a nearly three-hour dinner over pork chops and gravy, fried okra and rice. After dessert of apple pie, Mrs. Clinton encouraged the women to organize and travel the country with her campaign.

“You are the mothers of the children who are dying in the streets,” Mrs. Clinton told the group, Ms. McBath recalled. “You have a lot of power individually,” she said. “But collectively, you need to come together. The country needs to hear from you.”

Since then, these mothers, many of whom did not know one another before the Clinton campaign flew them to Chicago to convene, have blanketed the primary states, appearing with Mrs. Clinton in churches and barbershops from Ohio to South Carolina. They starred in an ad that aired in Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis. And the campaign has paid their travel expenses so they could attend the Democratic presidential debates.

“There I was, sitting behind Donna Brazile and in front of Cornel West,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in Texas last year after an altercation with a state trooper. “Nobody knew we were there.”

The Clinton campaign named this sisterhood forged in the shared loss of a child the “Mothers of the Movement,” and they have become an unlikely linchpin of Mrs. Clinton’s success in the Democratic primary. At campaign stops, Mrs. Clinton introduces them as “a group of mothers who belong to a club no one ever wants to join.” The mothers will arrive in New York this week to help Mrs. Clinton compete in the primary on Tuesday.

Having these women by her side has provided Mrs. Clinton with powerful and deeply sympathetic character witnesses as she makes her case to African-American voters. And they have given her campaign, an often cautious and poll-tested operation, a raw, human and sometimes gut-wrenching feeling.

The presence of the mothers has also proved a shrewd political move that has influenced black leaders and lawmakers to back Mrs. Clinton.

“Those not supporting her are reluctant to go against her, because we led the marches and the rallies on these things and have worked very closely with the mothers,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network is hosting Mrs. Clinton and her opponent in the Democratic primary, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, for a discussion of civil rights issues at its annual conference this week in New York. “It certainly influences how we related to her campaign,” added Mr. Sharpton, who has not endorsed a candidate.

Click here to read more

Source: The New York Times | AMY CHOZICK