Hillary Clinton faces mixed reaction in bid to win black support

It is barely eight months since nine black people were shot dead by a young white man as they attended a bible study group at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. 

As South Carolina prepares to hold its Democratic primary, the incident has been high on Hillary Clinton’s agenda, as she works to cement support among black voters. Recent polls in the state, where African Americans will make up the majority of voters on Saturday, put Ms Clinton as far as 28 points clear of her rival, Bernie Sanders. But not everyone is convinced by her attempt to embrace the issues at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the first black woman to be elected to the state government in South Carolina, has said she is concerned that Ms Clinton’s decision to include the relatives of one of the so-called Charleston Nine in a campaign advert meant the deaths were being used for political purposes. The advert features the Rev Anthony Thompson, whose wife, Myra, was among those shot and killed last June in the massacre.

This week, a young activist, Ashley Williams, confronted the former secretary of state at a rally and demanded to know why she had once used the term “super predators” to describe black offenders, and why she supported laws such as the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which is considered to have disproportionally hit African Americans. 

Ms Williams, a student from Charlotte, North Carolina, said: “She is inconsistent and she has not explained that inconsistency, and she is not to be trusted unless she explains herself,” she said.

At a rally on Thursday night in North Charleston, close to where the unarmed Walter Scott was shot and killed by a white police officer in a notorious incident last April, Ms Clinton talked of the time she spent with black mothers whose sons had been killed.

“Trayvon Martin’s mother. Her 17-year-old son was killed by someone with a gun. Jordan Davis’s mother. He was a teenager playing his music loud, like teenagers do… And then the horrors of what happened at Mother Emanuel [church] when those people welcomed a stranger... On average, 90 people a day are dying from gun violence.”

Many at the event said they believed Ms Clinton was qualified to lead the country and deliver on a range of issues, including education, jobs, healthcare and gun control.

Montez Aiken, a black police officer, had brought his 11-year-old daughter. He wanted to hear Ms Clinton in person, though he said he already planned to vote for her. He said the issues raised by the Black Lives Movement were not talked enough by the presidential hopefuls.

“I believe she has done her groundwork,” he said. “There is no question she will know what to do as president.”