"Black lives matter." With those three little words, Clinton acknowledged that there are myriad ways that race continues to shape life in America that have almost no relationship to pocketbooks, educational credentials or class. There's ample evidence that income, education and the like do not deliver the same results in black lives that they do in others.
After three successive summers filled with news about the nation's rocky racial landscape, it's probably fair to say that at least some of the people running for office in 2016 expect questions about the way the police do their work and how the country responds when something goes wrong.
But for a group of activists who first organized loosely online under the hashtag #blacklivesmatter in the hours after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman on all charges in the death of unarmed, black teen, Trayvon Martin, just getting someone in the 2016 field -- especially the heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee -- to acknowledge that black lives are in particular peril is pretty huge.
Of course, the journey from point A to point B has not been anything close to easy.
The Clinton camp insists that Clinton has been supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement with her earliest public comments indicating this coming before she was a declared candidate in December 2014. (The key section begins around 8:32 in the video below.) And there was this essay published days after she announced her plan to run.
More than a few activists and supporters of this cause disagree with the campaign's characterization of Clinton as a full and long-term ally. And some of Clinton's more recent choices haven't helped.
In June, Clinton went to a Missouri forum, held in a church not far from the place where another unarmed black teen was shot and killed by a police officer whom a grand jury later opted not to indict. At the time, she said this while connecting the struggles of young black Americans and her own mother's deeply difficult upbringing : "All lives matter.”
It was, whether intentional or not, the phrase to which opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement have most often turned. And that's the kind of equivocation that can, to some ears, sound a lot like minimization or worse, outright rejection.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has offered up his own assessment of the singular way that race shapes policing in the United States and the relationship between economic isolation and continued racial inequality.
But Sanders has also used that same phrase, "All lives matter," when pressed. And, this weekend, when activists in Phoenix deeply concerned with the way that police do their work in communities of color stormed into a liberal gathering, Sanders wasn't as forceful on the issue as Clinton.
"Black lives of course matter," he said. "But I've spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights. If you don't want me to be here, that's okay."
His I'll-just-take-my-ball-and-go-home comment, his irritated body language and decision to speak over protesters didn't do him any favors. And Sanders never seemed to really pivot to his ideas around police or criminal justice reforms.
Apparently, all that wasn't enough to encourage former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley to shift course on stage. He did manage to listen and to contain most outward signs of frustration. Then, O'Malley said this at that same Phoenix gathering: "Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter." He later apologized. He did manage to listen and to contain most outward signs of frustration.
Clinton, as has been widely reported, skipped Netroots this year due to a scheduling conflict. Plus, she probably didn't have much fun there in 2007 when she was booed during her previous presidential bid.
So late Monday, Hillary Clinton, habitual avoider of direct contact with reporters has said on the record: "Black lives matter." She didn't add qualifiers. She didn't hedge. She didn't find a way to connect, compare or somehow associate the systemic and wide-spread challenges that black and Latino communities face with policing right now to difficult circumstances in individual white lives in the past. That is indeed a moment worth noting.