It wasn’t a giant rally with screaming supporters, celebrity friends and a feisty candidate. But the small gathering on behalf of Hillary Clinton in a Brooklyn church still reverberated with emotion.
Sitting in the airy chapel at Mount Ararat Church in Brooklyn, the crowd heard from five women who had lost their children to gun violence or after contact with the police, including the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. One by one, they shared stories of loss and grief and argued Clinton was the candidate best prepared to take on gun violence and reshape the criminal justice system.
"She was the only candidate that reached out to us," said Sybrina Fulton, whose 17-year-old son, Trayvon Martin, was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012. "That showed us that our tragedies were important." She said: "It’s important that we let our voices be heard and you absolutely can do that at the polls."
More than a dozen of these women have dubbed themselves the "Mothers of the Movement." They met privately with Clinton and each other last year at a Chicago restaurant, pouring out their stories while the Democratic presidential contender took notes. Though Clinton didn’t directly ask for endorsements at the time, the women decided to get involved and have campaigned for her in South Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio. Clinton’s campaign pays their travel expenses.
They spent the weekend before Tuesday’s New York primary at churches and block parties around New York City, pushing for strong turnout from black voters, who heavily support Clinton and could give her an edge.
"Fill your car up with people," Fulton said. "Just make sure you’re taking someone with you…It is so important. It means everything to us. It means everything to our community."
On Sunday morning at a church in Mount Vernon, Clinton introduced three of the mothers, describing their stories in detail and pledging to fight for tougher gun laws — an area where she has repeatedly questioned the record of her primary rival, Bernie Sanders.
"Nobody else running on either side is willing to take the stands that I think must be taken," Clinton said.
Sanders has struggled to win over black voters. He’s won the endorsement of Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island man who died in an apparent police chokehold in 2014. But Eric’s mother, Gwen Carr, is backing Clinton, and others in the group are not sold on Sanders, either.
"He’s not connected," said Pamela Bosley, whose teenage son Terrell Bosley was shot and killed in Chicago in 2007. "Hillary took the time and came out to Roseland. She came out and walked the neighborhoods."
Still, Clinton has come under criticism from some activists over the 1994 crime bill. It was a signature achievement of her husband, but critics say it contributed to high levels of incarceration for non-violent crimes, like drug offenses. Clinton has said the bill included some good provisions, like money for police officers, an assault weapons ban and an effort to prevent violence against women, but has also said she is sorry for unintended consequences.
The mothers said they did not hold the bill against Clinton. "You’re going to tell me that’s all you’ve got?" asked Geneva Reed-Veal. Her daughter Sandra Bland was jailed after a white state trooper pulled her over in July for a minor traffic violation and their exchange turned combative. She was found hanging from a cell partition three days later, her death provoking national outrage.
Many of the women in New York over the weekend say their ties to Clinton go back before the Chicago meeting. Nicole Paultre Bell’s fiance, Sean Bell, was fatally shot by New York City detectives on what was supposed to have been his wedding day nearly 10 years ago. She remembers the phone call from then-Sen. Clinton, asking how she and the children were doing.
Some had met before but they credit Clinton with bringing the larger group together.
"Being together helps us because it’s such a difficult thing to deal with," said Annette Holt, whose teenage son Blair Holt was shot and killed on a Chicago bus in 2007 as he tried to protect a friend. "I think that by us being involved, we will always be connected."
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