West Columbia, South Carolina (CNN)Hillary Clinton said Thursday that the United States needs to confront "systemic racism" in its law enforcement efforts — declaring again that "black lives matter."
Hillary Clinton decries 'systemic racism' in law enforcement
The Democratic presidential front-runner's comments during a Thursday morning campaign event are her latest effort -- just days after making the same comment in a Facebook chat -- to embrace the outrage over African-Americans' deaths in police custody and in racially-motivated shootings.
"I think we first have to acknowledge and believe that black lives matter. This is not just a slogan, this should be a guiding principle," Clinton told the crowd of 400 at the Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia.
She was asked about the "epidemic proportions" of African-Americans who have died in police hands -- and she mentioned Sandra Bland, a Texas woman who died in jail after she was arrested following a traffic stop.
About a little over an hour down Interstate-26 from Thursday's event is the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where nine parishioners were killed during a Bible study session in racially-motivated shootings by 21-year-old Dylann Roof. Clinton praised South Carolina for removing the Confederate flag, viewed by many as a symbol of racism left over from the days of slavery, from its Capitol grounds. But she said more needs to be done.
Clinton called for more training for police officers and said law enforcement should wear body cameras. But her best-received remarks were her broad acknowledgment of racial disparities.
"All of us want a safe community, so we should be smart enough how we can provide that safety without intentionally or unintentionally targeting a particular group of Americans," Clinton said.
"And what is so, really, troubling, is that if you compare statistics between white men and African American men, if they are stopped, if they are arrested, if they are charged, if they are convicted, if they are sentenced, there are clear undeniable racial disparities. I think we have to admit this. We shouldn't try to gloss it over or it would go away."
Clinton's remarks come in the wake of high-profile stumbles by two of her primary challengers last weekend at a progressive conference in Phoenix.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley had to backtrack after declaring: "Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter."
"All lives matter" was the same comment Clinton herself had made a month earlier -- and, like Clinton, O'Malley faced backlash from protesters who are pushing the candidates to address what they see as systemic problems that specifically confront African-Americans, rather than talking about the economy, education and law enforcement as areas that need broad improvement.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has been criticized by "Black Lives Matter" protesters after he grew frustrated on stage in Phoenix and tried to speak over them.
Clinton skipped the event, and two days later took advantage of the added time and the ease of the medium and declared on Facebook that "black lives matter."
She addressed the issue in prepared remarks before the question-and-answer portion of her event Thursday in South Carolina, as well.
"I think it is essential that we all stand up and say loudly and clearly, yes, black lives matter. And we all have a responsibility to face these hard truths about race and justice, honestly and directly," Clinton said.