Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 83rd Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. on June 20, 2015.
Photo by Mathew Sumner/AP

Clinton: ‘Our problem is not all kooks and Klansman’

The political reactions to last week’s mass shooting in Charleston were, in too many instances, woefully inadequate. Much of the Republicans’ 2016 field, for example, has not only spent the last several days clumsily dodging questions about the Confederate battle flag, but has been equally cautious discussing the shooter’s racist motives.
But among high-profile White House hopefuls, not everyone was prepared to sit quietly on the sidelines. MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald reported over the weekend on Hillary Clinton stepping up in ways her GOP rivals would not.
6/20/15, 1:57 PM ET

Hillary Clinton: Race remains deep fault line in America

Full video: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about race and the Charleston, South Carolina massacre at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, California.
In the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina massacre at a historically black church this week, Hillary Clinton vowed Saturday to fight for new gun control laws despite the overwhelming opposition. She also said America must address lingering racism exposed by the shooting. […]
In a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, Clinton said it “make no sense” that Congress has failed to pass simple gun control laws, like universal background checks. She vowed to keep fighting and promised to achieve reform if elected president.
Amidst caution and reticence from so many national candidates, former Secretary of State did the exact opposite, delivering candid, almost aggressive remarks on matters of race and gun violence.
On the latter, Clinton didn’t endorse specific policy measures, so much as she offered support for the kind of reforms the right refuses to even consider. From the transcript made available by the Democratic campaign:
Now, I lived in Arkansas and I represented Upstate New York. I know that gun ownership is part of the fabric of a lot of law-abiding communities.  But I also know that we can have common sense gun reforms that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the violently unstable, while respecting responsible gun owners.
“What I hope with all of my heart is that we work together to make this debate less polarized, less inflamed by ideology, more informed by evidence, so we can sit down across the table, across the aisle from one another, and find ways to keep our communities safe while protecting constitutional rights.
“It makes no sense that bipartisan legislation to require universal background checks would fail in Congress, despite overwhelming public support. It makes no sense that we wouldn’t come together to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, or people suffering from mental illnesses, even people on the terrorist watch list. That doesn’t make sense, and it is a rebuke to this nation we love and care about.
“The President is right, the politics on this issue have been poisoned. But we can’t give up. The stakes are too high. The costs are too dear.”
Clinton added, however, that the nation faces a “deeper challenge” when addressing racial divisions, pointing to Charleston as an example in which “racist rhetoric has metastasized into racist violence.”
“Now, it’s tempting, it is tempting to dismiss a tragedy like this as an isolated incident, to believe that in today’s America, bigotry is largely behind us, that institutionalized racism no longer exists. But despite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America’s long struggle with race is far from finished.
“I know this is a difficult topic to talk about. I know that so many of us hoped by electing our first black president, we had turned the page on this chapter in our history. I know there are truths we don’t like to say out loud or discuss with our children. But we have to. That’s the only way we can possibly move forward together.
“Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives…. More than a half century after Dr. King marched and Rosa Parks sat and John Lewis bled, after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and so much else, how can any of these things be true? But they are.
“And our problem is not all kooks and Klansman. It’s also in the cruel joke that goes unchallenged.  It’s in the off-hand comments about not wanting ‘those people’ in the neighborhood.
“Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.
“We can’t hide from any of these hard truths about race and justice in America. We have to name them and own them and then change them.”
I hope the Republican field was watching. In the wake of a massacre that stunned much of the nation and the world, some candidates who talk a lot about leadership hid behind vague talking points and evasive answers to obvious questions.
And others spoke out in ways that mattered.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton: 'Our problem is not all kooks and Klansman'