BOSTON — Hillary Clinton stood with those protesting the deaths of two unarmed black males at the hands of law enforcement on Thursday, telling an audience in Boston that “our country deserves a full and fair accounting” of what happened.
In the last two weeks, grand juries have cleared police officers in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. The deaths have led to rising tension and protests around the country about law enforcement’s treatment of black males.
At a massive gathering of 10,000 women in Massachusetts, Clinton said she recognized the “pain and frustration” in response to the deaths and backed federal probes that have been initiated by the Justice Department.
“I’m very pleased that the DOJ will be investigating what happened in Ferguson or Staten Island,” Clinton said. “Those families and those communities and our country deserve a full and fair accounting, as well as whatever substantive reforms are necessary to ensure equality, justice and respect for every citizen.”
Clinton also called out the federal government for sending military-style equipment — which Clinton called “weapons of war” — to local police forces.
Instead, the former secretary of state and likely 2016 presidential candidate said the United States should “invest in what works … [not] buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets or contribute to unnecessary force or arrests.”
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama issued an executive order on police militarization calling for better tracking of such equipment.
Clinton identified with both the peaceful protestors and law enforcement during her speech.
“We all know there are decent, honorable, brave police officers out in our communities every single day,” Clinton said, before telling the audience the fact that African-American males are more likely to end up in prison than their white counterparts was a byproduct of an “out of balance” criminal justice system.
“Each of us has to grapple with some hard truths about race and justice in America,” Clinton said. “We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance. And I personally hope that these tragedies give us the opportunity to come together as a nation to find our balance again.”
Clinton last commented on Ferguson in August, a few weeks after Brown was shot dead by a police officer in the St. Louis suburb.
The former first lady told an audience of technology investors in San Francisco that the United States “can do better.”
“This is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray,” Clinton said. “Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone, not in America. We are better than that.”
On Thursday, Clinton said in light of sweeping protests, people need to try “even harder to see the world through our neighbors eyes.”
“Aren’t these our sons? Aren’t these our brothers?” Clinton asked. “These tragedies did not happen in some far away place. They did not happen to some other people. There are our streets, our children.”
The venue for the commentary was somewhat unique.
In a hall the size of multiple football fields, 10,000 women ate lunch and listened to Clinton talk at the Massachusetts Conference for Women. Outside the convention center hall a mix of corporations and shops were set up in booths to create what felt like a mix of a job fair and a mall.
Women shopped for make up, scarfs and jewelry as they handed out resumes and got coached on how to buff up their LinkedIn page.
Around the hall, there was excitement for Clinton. Many women chatted about her time on the speaking circuit and whether she would drop hints about her presidential plans on stage.
Bentley University President Gloria Larson, who founded the gathering 10 years ago, event pondered the subject from stage.
“Do you think she might give us a few clues about her future plans today?” she questioned to a chorus of cheers from the crowd.
Clinton was not the only high-profile speaker on the stage Thursday. Lupita Nyong’o, the award-winning actress from the film “12 Years a Slave,” shared her story on overcoming her fears to become an actress.
She also told the crowd she was honored for share the stage with Clinton, who she described as, “literally a leader among men.”
As for Clinton, she declined to say whether she was running, but did reflect on the presidency when asked, calling it “such a hard job” where a “support system is absolutely critical.”
It’s unclear if Clinton was paid to speak at the event, though it had all the trappings of Clinton’s usually paid appearances.