Politics

Democrats' Law and Order Tightrope

The party attempts to strike a balance between protecting police and holding them accountable

The 'Mothers of the Movement' speaking at the Democratic National Convention (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats had a tightrope to walk Tuesday night: how to honor police officers who have fallen to gun violence while recognizing the mothers who have lost their children, sometimes at the hands of authorities.  

The evening program at the Democratic National Convention featured the "Mothers of the Movement," an extraordinary array of African-American women from across the country, bound in a sorority of grief for their lost children.  

“We’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders like Hillary Clinton who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing,” said Lucy McBath.  

[ Full Coverage of the Democratic National Convention ]  

Her son, Jordan Davis, was gunned down by a motorist at a Jacksonville gas station in a dispute over loud music. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, said Clinton, who was nominated for president on Tuesday at the convention, would be the only candidate to advocate for better gun laws. Martin, who was unarmed, was shot during an altercation in Florida in 2012 by a neighborhood watchman, who was later acquitted after arguing self-defense.  

Others lost their children to interactions with police: Lezley McSpadden's son Michael Brown was shot by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri; Maria Hamilton's mentally ill son Dontre Hamilton was shot by Milwaukee police; Gwen Carr's son Eric Garner died after being held in an extended choke hold by a Staten Island, New York, police officer.  

[ The Victims Behind the Mothers of the Movement ]  

In all, nine mothers shared their stories and told how Clinton had urged them to continue their advocacy. "Hillary Clinton isn't afraid to say that 'Black Lives Matter," McBath said, referring to the movement that has sprung up in response to such killings.  

The presentation came in sharp contrast to last week's Republican convention, where Trump focused much of his 75-minute speech on restoring “law and order." Dave A. Clarke, an African-American sheriff, spoke at the convention about protecting police, calling the Black Lives Matter movement “anarchy.” “Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to make something very clear – Blue Lives Matter in America,” Clarke said defiantly to a Republican crowd who erupted in cheers and chants of “USA.” [ Hillary Clinton's Law and Order Problem ]  

Democrats balanced the mothers with two law enforcement officials spelling out the importance of police in society, as well as the inequities that often face racial and ethnic minorities.  

“We can respect and support our police officers while at the same time pushing for these important criminal justice reforms,” former Attorney General Eric Holder told the convention. “We can do both and we will do both.”  

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay followed him, addressing both the recent shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, as well as the deaths two black men shot by police in July: Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge.  

Former President Bill Clinton, in his speech describing his wife, threaded the same needle, saying,  "If you're a young African American disillusioned and afraid, we saw in Dallas how great our police officers can be, help us build a future where nobody is afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue to protect our future."  

Still the emphasis on police shootings brought criticism for the Democrats. Last week, the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 criticized Democrats for featuring of the mothers while not featuring family members of police officers killed.   

"It is sad that to win an election Mrs. Clinton must pander to the interests of people who do not know all the facts, while the men and women they seek to destroy are outside protecting the political institutions of this country," lodge president John Nesby said.  

 And Republicans are likely to continue harping on the issue in the months ahead. "My Republican strategist friends are salivating at the idea that the convention is going to embrace the Black Lives movement," said Jim Manley, director of Communications practice who formerly worked for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.  

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