North Carolina Vignette: Guns And Police Race Relations On The Clinton Campaign Trail

A brief dispatch from Charlotte:

"We are sick and tired of seeing hashtags, and buttons with our kids' faces on them, and t-shirts that have replaced our children's bodies," said Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter was Sandra Bland. Bland, age 28, was found dead in 2015 in a Texas jail cell, in a highly controversial case in which a minor traffic infraction was escalated by police into a major confrontation. A video of the confrontation was viewed by millions on You Tube.

Reed-Veal is one of the group known as Mothers of the Movement who are touring swing states to encourage and inspire people to vote for Clinton. Theirs is a club, they say, whose membership they hope won't grow. It includes Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin; Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis; Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner; Geneva Reed-Veal, and Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontre Hamilton. Amongst them, they have plenty to say about America's criminal justice system, racial disparities, lax gun laws, and Clinton's commitment to addressing the violence and deaths caused by an under-regulated firearms market and a rash of racially biased- inflected deaths of unarmed people, for which the police have repeatedly been acquitted.

When Mothers of the Movement spoke at the Democratic National Convention earlier this year, "Black Lives Matter" chants erupted. Clinton, they say, cares deeply about these divisive issues. The Clinton platform includes significant racial justice and gun violence prevention initiatives.

"We have thousands of people dying from all these guns, it's really bad," said 56-year old Maria Hamilton, whose mentally ill 33-year old son Dontre Hamilton was, his mother says with evident pain, shot fourteen times by a Milwaukee policeman in a park in 2014. She also tells of a 15-year old who was able to obtain an automatic rifle within 45 minutes, pointing out the need for background checks, and closing the online gun sales loophole. Hamilton has been working on police accountability, crisis intervention training for police faced with mentally ill individuals, and other initiatives related to improving police/community relations.

North Carolina is a key swing state in the presidential election, with hotly contested Senate and gubernatorial races. Geneva Reed-Veal and Maria Hamilton made a surprise visit to the two dozen volunteers in a makeshift North Charlotte campaign office in a little strip mall near an old police station and a Family Dollar store. They visited on October 21, one day after early voting opened in this state.

The volunteers were a diverse and mixed crowd - some local Charlotte residents, a young man from Portugal, a few New Yorkers here to help out for the weekend, a Trinidadian-born woman who'd offered to make chili for twenty of the next weekend's volunteers, and an African-American Arkansan who, she said, had worked in every Clinton election "since they first ran for office in Arkansas". The volunteers stopped making calls to voters to hear the Mothers speak for 20 minutes.

"We need someone in office in January who will pass legislation that will actually protect everybody," concluded Hamilton. Then she and Reed-Veal, a duet of tragedy and hope, left for their next inspirational visit, as the volunteers returned to dialing.