COLUMBIA, S.C. – Sitting alongside African American women who have lost children to violence, a somber Hillary Clinton pleaded for more effective gun control on Tuesday as she began a final push to consolidate black support ahead of the first Democratic primary in a southern state.
“Something is very wrong when we have these incidents where kids can get arrested for petty crimes and lose their lives,” Clinton said. “Something is wrong when African Americans are three times more likely to be denied a mortgage as white people are, when the median wealth of black families is just a fraction of the median wealth for white families,” Clinton said.
Clinton sat silently as one after the other, the five mothers told the stories of their children’s deaths, and about why they are backing Clinton’s presidential bid. The unusual campaign event was part testimonial, part memorial, part call to action against what Clinton called lax gun laws designed to shield gun makers and dealers.
“I was never into politics but now I am, and one of the reasons is because of her,” said Sybrina Fulton, whose unarmed teenaged son Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighbor in Florida in 2012.
Clinton, sitting to Fulton’s left, rubbed her shoulder as she spoke.
Clinton did not mention her Democratic primary rival Bernie Sanders, who trails her in South Carolina, where black voters are likely to be the majority in Saturday’s Democratic primary, and among black voters generally.
Clinton arrived in South Carolina on Tuesday for five days of campaigning. Clinton is counting on a decisive victory here and a strong display of black support to shore up her front-runner status as the Democratic campaign moves into Southern and Midwestern states with significant black populations.
“That’s too many deaths, too many young lives cut short, too many questions still unanswered,” Clinton said in introducing the mothers.
Clinton was also joined by Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in her jail cell in Texas after a traffic stop last year; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold in New York in 2014; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, shot by a police officer in Milwaukee in 2014; and Lucy McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, a Florida teen shot in 2012 by a man who had complained about loud music coming from the car the boy was riding in.
“I say to you, if Eric Garner was a white man, standing on the corner in the suburbs,” he would not have been killed, Carr said. “We cannot take this anymore. We have to get up and do something about it.”
The same group of women spoke to audiences on Clinton’s behalf across South Carolina on Monday and Tuesday. They all were among a group of women who met privately with Clinton last year in a session several of them described as emotional.
“I endorse her because she endorsed us first,” Carr said to applause.
“We have nine months to put her in” the White House. “She’s the new baby,” Reed-Veal said.
In addition, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, former space shuttle commander Mark Kelly, also joined Clinton at Central Baptist Church, a large black church on the outskirts of the state’s capital city. Giffords was shot at close range in 2011 as she held a community event in her Tucson, Ariz., congressional district. Now disabled, she has become a gun-control activist and Clinton booster.
"We have a Congress that is in the grip of the gun lobby," Kelly said. "Elections matter."
He called Clinton the only candidate in the race who will stand up to the gun lobby, which is a claim Clinton frequently makes on her own behalf. She has proposed a series of executive actions and potential legislation to tighten existing laws.
Giffords spoke briefly and haltingly.
"Hillary is tough. She is courageous. She will fight to make our families safer. In the White House she will stand up to the gun lobby," Giffords said. "Speaking is difficult for me, but come January I want to say these two words: Madam President."
Sanders could not dent Clinton’s support among black voters as a whole in Nevada, where she won the Democratic caucus on Saturday, but the vote again displayed her weakness among young people, who overwhelmingly support Sanders.
Carr’s granddaughter, Eric Garner’s oldest child Erica Garner, has campaigned for Sanders in South Carolina and introduced him at a university rally here.