Mothers of the Moment

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Women whose children died at the hands of police or because of gun violence give their testimonies and tell why they’re with Hillary Clinton.

BY THOMAS FITZGERALD
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

When the lights came up revealing nine African-American women standing in a circle, as if in prayer, delegates and guests at the Democratic National Convention broke into a chant:
“Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!”

Geneva Reed-Vead, the mother of 28-year-old Sandra Bland, speaks as the Mothers of the Movement make an appearance during the second day of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Geneva Reed-Vead, the mother of 28-year-old Sandra Bland, speaks as the Mothers of the Movement make an appearance during the second day of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Then the crowd quieted to listen to the Mothers of the Movement, women whose children died at the hands of police or in bursts of gun violence. They were there to testify for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Delegates get emotional listening to the personal stories of the Mothers of the Movement during the second day of the Democratic National Convention.(PHOTOS BY MARCUS YAM/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS)
Delegates get emotional listening to the personal stories of the Mothers of the Movement during the second day of the Democratic National Convention.
(PHOTOS BY MARCUS YAM/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS)

“She knows that when a young Black life is cut short, it’s not just a personal loss, it’s … a loss that diminishes all of us,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter, Sandra Bland, was found hanged by a twisted plastic garbage bag in a Texas jail in 2015.

“What a blessing tonight to be standing here so that Sandy can still speak through her momma,” Reed-Veal said, choking back tears. “We have an opportunity, and we’ve got to seize it, to elect a president who will help lead us on the path to restoration and change.”

Campaigning for months
It was perhaps the most prominent platform yet for the movement that has spurred demonstrations across the country in the last four years over the deaths of young Black Americans, and put pressure on the political system to deal with policing, gun violence and racial disparities in the justice system.

The mothers have been campaigning on Clinton’s behalf for months. They started with intimate gatherings in small rural churches in South Carolina and traveled the country, helping to energize a crucial constituency for Clinton.

“This isn’t about being politically correct,” Sybrina Fulton said at the convention. “This is about saving our children.” Her son, Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch member, George Zimmerman, in Sanford in 2012.

160729_metro01cThe emotionally powerful convention moment came in a month of mounting tension that has seen two Black men killed in officer-involved shootings, near St. Paul, Minn., and in Baton Rouge, La., and eight police officers assassinated.

And marchers in the streets of Philadelphia have demanded justice for young men of color killed by police officers.

Some criticism
Hillary Clinton has been criticized by Black Lives Matter activists for her support of the 1994 crime bill signed by her husband, President Bill Clinton, that imposed mandatory prison sentences and is blamed for a high rate of incarceration of young Black men.

“Our fight is not with the Mothers of the Movement. They have every right to speak – they need that platform to speak,” said Asa Khalif of the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice.

He said he wished the convention had emphasized deaths as the result of police brutality, instead of including other cases of simple gun violence.

‘Build a future’
Last week, the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police lodge slammed the DNC for failing to give the families of recently slain officers speaking time at the convention.

“It is sad that to win an election, Mrs. Clinton must pander to the interests of people who do not know all the facts, while the men and women they seek to destroy are outside protecting the political institutions of this country,” union president John McNesby said in a statement.

The goal is “to build a future” in which police officers and minority communities cooperate, said Lucy McBath, whose son Jordan Davis was fatally shot while he sat in a car in a parking lot with other Black teens – by a White man who complained their music was too loud.

“The majority of police officers are good people doing a good job,” McBath said.

Aubrey Whelan contributed to this article.

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