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Mitchell: Hillary Clinton puts racism in national spotlight

Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, introduced Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at the Parkway Ballroom in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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If Hillary Clinton is to win the presidency, she will need a huge turnout of black voters.

That need came through loud and clear at the Parkway Ballroom on Wednesday.

Unlike President Barack Obama’s early campaign events in 2007, Clinton didn’t deliver a stump speech that shied away from the major concerns on the minds of black people.

She boldly went where Obama couldn’t go, a stunning example of what it means to have white privilege in politics.

“There is something wrong . . . when African-Americans are nearly three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage. When the median wealth of black families is just a tiny fraction of the median wealth of white families, and yes, when gun violence is the leading cause of death of young African-American men,” Clinton said.

“Something is wrong when black children in Flint, Michigan, are poisoned with lead in their water. We need to face the reality of systemic racism,” she said.

“We need to protect our children and all the other Americans who lose their lives every year,” Clinton said, tapping into an issue that is boiling over in urban communities.

OPINION

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Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, gave Clinton a rousing endorsement during her introduction of the candidate.

Bland’s death in a rural Texas jail last summer, after she was pulled over by a state trooper, was a turning point in the debate over abusive police practices in the African-American community, which until then had focused almost entirely on young black males.

“You know you hear the talk, but to have Hillary step out and say, ‘No, We are going to tackle this’ is a marvelous thing,” Reed-Veal said later.

Clinton referred to the women as “mothers of the movement,” and vowed to “break down barriers” if elected president.

Also on the stage with Clinton were Annette Holt, the mother of Blair Holt, who was fatally shot on a CTA bus while trying to shield a classmate; Cleo Pendleton, the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, who was fatally shot while in a neighborhood park not far from the Obamas’ Kenwood home; and Pam Bosley, whose son Terrell Bosley was fatally shot while unloading drums in a church parking lot.

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“It is real important that anybody who asks for our vote, they really have to address the issues in our community and the main issue that we have right now is gun violence and our young people being murdered,” Holt said after the rally.

Although the Clintons have enjoyed a long love affair with African-American voters, the relationship was strained when Clinton ran against Obama in 2007.

This time around, a scathing critique in The Nation by Michelle Alexander, one of the leading voices on the criminalization of black men and the author of the “New Jim Crow,” could further tamp down Clinton’s support among young black voters.

“In practice, [Bill Clinton] capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare and taxes — ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did,” Alexander wrote.

The rally, which kicked off several fundraisers in the city, drew a mostly older crowd but did not pack the historic Bronzeville site.

“I think [Hillary] needs us. Right now we are in a critical situation. You need to get to the polls. I think the more of us that people see, they’ll get out,” Reed-Veal said.

Clinton is counting on it.

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