PHILADELPHIA — Hillary Clinton called for a criminal justice overhaul and additional gun control measures Friday in the wake of a tragic shooting in Dallas that targeted police officers.
Five officers who were among their colleagues keeping the peace at a Black Lives Matter protest were killed. The Dallas protest was one of many across the nation, including one in Philadelphia, after two black men recently were killed by police in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, said she would likely face criticism for discussing the need for criminal justice reform after police officers were killed — and for supporting the police after black men were killed by officers.
She spoke to a mostly black audience at the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s bicentennial conference at the Philadelphia Convention Center. About 30,000 people come to the conference, according to the AME Church, while event organizers said an estimated 7,000 people attended Clinton’s speech Friday evening.
“All these things can be true at once,” Clinton said. “We do need police and criminal justice reforms to save lives and makes sure all Americans are treated equally in rights and dignity. We do need to support police departments that stand up for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. And we do need to reduce gun violence.”
Clinton referenced the Dallas shootout and two recent shootings by police that heightened tensions between law enforcement and minorities.
Philando Castile, 32, was shot and killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, on Wednesday. His girlfriend streamed the aftermath of the incident live on Facebook . And Alton Sterling, 37, was killed by police outside a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, convenience store on Tuesday, another incident captured on video and shared widely on social media.
Clinton said not everything was known about the three incidents.
“For now, let’s focus on what we already know deep in our hearts,” Clinton said. “We know there is something wrong with our country. There is too much violence, too much hate, too many people dead who shouldn’t be.”
Her appearance before the historically black church’s conference was already scheduled before this week’s events. But her address took on a new meaning in light of the incidents, with the audience breaking into applause at her statements about implicit bias in society, and her calls for accountability.
Nedra Allen of Little Rock, Arkansas, said Clinton’s speech was “heartfelt,” and her comments on racism racism resonated with her own experience fearing for the safety her teenage son.
“I can’t even let my son go to the store by himself,” Allen said. But she said combating racism is a daunting task.
“Racism has existed for so many years,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to change the … conditions of people’s hearts, but I feel that it can be done.”
Clinton’s speech also hit home for AME churchgoers. In a 2015 racially motivated shooting, a young man opened fire at an AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine, including its pastor. Clinton also talked about that shooting when calling for actions to address gun violence.
The former secretary of state said Congress has not been able to address the issue. Washington was so broken, she said, that civil rights era icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia had to stage a sit-in on the House floor to call for a vote on gun control legislation.
She also noted that Congress has also not been able to address criminal justice legislation either, with bipartisan measures stalled in both chambers and legislative days dwindling.