Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton told activists from the "Black Lives Matter" movement that they should promote specific policy changes rather than only focusing on "changing hearts."
"Look, I don't believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate," Clinton told members of the group after a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last week, in two videos released by Good magazine
Clinton spoke privately with members of the Black Lives Matter chapters in Boston and Worchester, Massachusetts, for about 15 minutes following her event, in which she focused on drug addiction.
The activists initially planned to disrupt the event but did not arrive in time to make it into the main room.
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The videos show the activists questioning Clinton about her role — as first lady, senator and secretary of state — in the war on drugs and policies, which they say led to mass incarceration.
"You and your family have been personally and politically responsible for policies that have caused Health and Human Services disasters in impoverished communities of color to the domestic and international War on Drugs that you championed," the questioner, activist Julius Jones, said to Clinton.
"I just want to know how you feel about your role in that violence and how you plan to reverse it?"
When Clinton said that she is focusing on "drugs, on mass incarceration, on police behavior and criminal justice reform," in her effort to help counter the problems that blacks are facing in this country, Jones said that those are the same policies that "didn't work" in the past, and "they were ripping apart families and actually causing death."
Clinton told the activists that while its good "to keep the pressure on," that they needed to figure out "what do we do now?" and "how are we going to do it?"
Jones said that mass incarceration of black individuals harkens back to America's "first drug" of "free black labor." He then asked Clinton again to reflect on the "mistakes that you made" to help change "how we treat black people in this country."
After Clinton encouraged the group to champion policies and said that "there has to be some positive vision and plan that you can move people toward," Jones responded that "you don't tell black people what we need to do, and we won't tell you all what you need to do."
The Democratic candidate for president responded, saying "well, respectfully, if that is your position then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems."
Jones then accused her of "victim blaming," by saying that those in "the Black Lives Matter movement" need to "change white hearts."
But Clinton pushed back, saying systemic racism can't be solved without changes in "the allocation of resources," but that the group isn't going to "change every heart."
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"You're not," she added. "But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential, to live safely without fear of violence in their own communities, to have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future. So we can do it one of many ways."
Clinton told the activists that "you can keep the movement going, which you have stated, and through it you may actually change some hearts. But if that's all that happens we'll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation because we will not have all the changes that you deserve to see happen in your lifetime," she said.
Clinton said she wants to give people real policies to grasp onto and understand rather than asking white Americans to pay lip service to the movement.
"You're going to have to come together as a movement and say 'here's what we want done about it,' because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack in Yankee Stadium," she said. "That's not enough, at least in my book."
After the exchange, which reporters were not allowed to witness, members of "Black Lives Matter" said they had hoped Clinton would reflect more on her personal role in promoting policies that they say hurt black Americans.
"I didn't hear a reflection on her part in perpetuating white supremacist violence," said Daunasia Yancey, founder of the group's Boston chapter. "I heard a reflection on failed policy."
Jones said Clinton should use her platform to talk more seriously about issues of race.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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