- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

BALTIMORE — Outside the courthouse where pretrial hearings began Wednesday for six officers accused in the death of a black man in their custody, demonstrators gathered to voice outrage over police brutality and race relations tearing the city apart — but their antagonism was just as intense when asked about the leading Democratic presidential candidates.

Black activists in the crowd railed against the entire field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, but they reserved their most acidic assessments for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“She’s full of [excrement],” said Ariane McBride, 35, a stay-at-home mom in Baltimore who brought her infant daughter, Joy, in a stroller to the demonstration.

Ms. McBride accused Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner for the party’s nomination, of flip-flopping on justice issues over the years and paying lip service to the Black Lives Matter movement. She warned that Mrs. Clinton can’t count on the same level of support from black voters as turned out for her husband, Bill Clinton.

“She should be worried,” she said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by every demonstrator approached by The Washington Times.

Few demonstrators mentioned former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination but has been mired at the bottom of the polls, other than blaming his zero-tolerance crime policies as Baltimore mayor in the early 2000s for what they said was police brutality in poor black neighborhoods.

Mrs. Clinton and the other Democratic candidates have struggled to align themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has blossomed nationally after a series of incidents in which black men died at the hands of police, including the April death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore that resulted in charges against the six police officers.

Gray’s death, which resulted from injuries he received in police custody, sparked riots that included looting and arson in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. It made the city ground zero in the national debate on race and policing.

Since then, the homicide rate has skyrocketed in Baltimore and other U.S. cities, and there have been a series of killings of officers that some blame on anti-police rhetoric associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

A Baltimore judge ruled Wednesday that the six officers charged in Gray’s death would be tried separately. A ruling is expected this month on the defense motion to move the trial to another venue. Defense attorneys argue that the jury pool in Baltimore has been tainted by publicity about Gray’s death and the ensuing riots.

Outside the courthouse, Malcolm Wilson carried a handwritten placard that read: “I am here for justice for Mr. Gray.”

“I don’t like any of the presidential candidates,” said the 24-year-old supermarket cashier. “They say what people want to hear but they’re not focused on what is tearing cities apart.”

Mrs. Clinton met with Black Lives Matter leaders while campaigning last month in New Hampshire, but the exchange turned confrontational.

Daunasia Yancey, founder of Black Lives Matter in Boston, pressed Mrs. Clinton about supporting her husband’s tough-on-crime policies that she said promoted “white supremacist violence against communities of color.”

“There was a different set of concerns back in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s. And now I believe that we have to look at the world as it is today and try and figure out what will work now,” said Mrs. Clinton. “And that’s what I’m trying to figure out, and that’s what I intend to do as president.”

Mr. Clinton’s policies, including mandatory minimum sentences that were imposed in response to the crack cocaine epidemic, have been blamed for the mass incarcerations of black men.

The former first lady, senator and secretary of state moved early in her campaign to tackle police-racial issues. Her first policy announcement was for justice reform measures that she said would end the mass incarcerations of black men and police harassment in black communities.

Mrs. Clinton has aggressively wooed black voters from the start as she attempts to reassemble the coalition of women, minorities and young voters who carried Barack Obama to the White House in 2008 and 2012.

But her policy prescriptions and explanations for her past positions on justice issues haven’t satisfied skeptical black activists.

“Hillary Clinton has her hand in the private prison industry,” said Justin Sanders, 32, a bartender and writer who wore an American flag bandana bandit-style over his face. On the bandana, he had written “slave revolt” in thick black ink.

Mr. Sanders and several other demonstrators in Baltimore spoke kindly about Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent and avowed socialist who has emerged as Mrs. Clinton’s chief Democratic rival. But the praise was tempered by a degree of skepticism.

“I like Bernie, but I don’t think he’s the savior everyone says he is,” said the bandana-wearing Mr. Sanders, who is not related to the senator.

The senator did not roll out a criminal justice agenda until last month, and he did it after several confrontations with black activists at his campaign events. His plan focused on community policing and demilitarizing police forces.

“It is an outrage that in these early years of the 21st century we are seeing intolerable acts of violence being perpetuated by police,” Mr. Sanders said when announcing the plan. “We need a societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter and racism cannot be accepted in a civilized country.”

Ms. McBride said the senator from Vermont was “OK,” but that the next president would have to be fearless to make a difference in her neighborhood.

“I don’t think he’s fearless enough,” she said.

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