MILWAUKEE — Tears flowed freely and shouts — sometimes sobs — echoed through the sanctuary during an event with Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton on gun control at Tabernacle Community Baptist Church in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

"There is no type of pain that you can describe other than getting a phone call and you being hundreds of miles away and somebody saying to you, your child is no longer here,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter Sandra Bland died in police custody after she was arrested during a routine traffic stop.

As Reed-Veal said the words, another woman sat in the back of the church and cried out “Noooo!”

That woman, Freda Bogan, had lost a child, too, 15 years ago. But the pain was still fresh.

“Your heart hurts when everyone is bragging about their son and you can’t brag about your son,” Bogan said after the event as tears streamed down her face.

For Clinton, these events have become regular occurrences on the campaign trail. She is campaigning in Wisconsin this week ahead of the state’s primary on April 5.

Flanked by the women who she has called “Mothers of the Movement,” Clinton has taken her advocacy for gun control from state to state. From African American churches such as Tabernacle Community Baptist to an outdoor memorial for the young victims of gun violence in Chicago, the events have been characterized by grief and solidarity.

On Tuesday, Clinton noted that her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, voted against a bill in the Senate that would strip immunity from gun manufacturers and gun sellers. But she spoke mostly without naming him, calling on the audience to take their concerns about gun control to the ballot box.


Hillary Clinton with Geneva Reed-Veal, left, mother of Sandra Bland, and Annette Nance-Holt, right, mother of Blair Holt, a 16-year-old killed in Chicago in 2007, in Milwaukee on March 29. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Clinton’s gun-control push has been a central part of her outreach to African Americans, who are about 40 percent of the population in Milwaukee. In primaries so far, Clinton has dominated Sanders among African American voters.

“The leading cause of death of young African American men is homicide,” Clinton said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

“But let's not grow weary doing good, because in due time we will harvest, if we stay focused,” Clinton said, adapting a verse from the book of Galatians.

The harshest words for Sanders were delivered by Clinton surrogates Annette Nance-Holt, whose son Blair Holt was killed while riding a bus home from school, and Reed-Veal as they exhorted the audience to vote for Clinton.

“That other candidate on the Democratic side did not reach out to us,” Holt said, referring to Sanders. She added that while Sanders talks about free college tuition, “if my child is dead, he can’t go to college."

In the pews, a group of predominantly African American parents who had lost children, survivors of gun violence, and members of the community and the church listened intently and cheered as the women spoke.


An audience filled with survivors of gun violence and supporters listen to Hillary Clinton speak at a Milwaukee church on March 29. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Reed-Veal and Nance-Holt were among a group of women who had lost their children who met with Clinton in Chicago last year. Reed-Veal said Clinton sent her a personal note when a grand jury declined to indict anyone in her daughter’s death in Texas. According to Reed-Veal, Clinton sent her another note during the holidays expressing regret that she would spend her first holiday season without her daughter.

Speaking to younger voters who fault Clinton for her husband’s support for the 1994 Crime Bill, Reed-Veal said Clinton has already apologized for those actions.

“You're talking about something that happened when her husband was president,” she said. “If I was to be held accountable for everything my man did, whoa!”

The crowd erupted in applause and cheers.