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Story highlights

Alicia Garza, co-creator of Black Lives Matter, says Clintons have taken black votes for granted while backing injurious policies

On Thursday, Bill Clinton had tense exchange with protesters

Editor’s Note: Alicia Garza, the co-creator of Black Lives Matter, is an organizer and writer living and working in Oakland, California. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN) —  

On Tuesday, former secretary of state and current presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton took the stage at BET’s Black Girls Rock show and proclaimed, “There are still a lot of barriers holding back African-Americans and black women in particular.”

Alicia Garza
Kristin Little Photography
Alicia Garza

On Thursday, black protesters attempted to highlight some of those barriers Clinton alluded to during a campaign rally in Philadelphia. In response, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, attempted to bring those protesters to heel, and referred to an adult woman who was protesting as a “girl.”

So on Tuesday, black girls rock. But on Thursday, it’s black girls hush.

Shamelessly, in defense of his 1994 crime bill, which both he and Hillary Clinton vigorously campaigned for, Clinton declares, “Maybe you thought they were good citizens … you are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter. Tell the truth. You are defending the people who cause young people to go out and take guns.”

But it is shameful – shameful because the lives of so many who were ravaged by that bill was the bridge that Clinton attempted to walk over in order to appeal to white voters who may have otherwise favored Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

It’s shameful because it was just a year ago that both Clintons acknowledged the flaws in the 1994 crime bill that helped lead to the crisis over hyper-incarceration and the resulting boom of the private prison industry. The crime bill was part of a national effort that resulted in the reality that black people, who comprise approximately 13% of the nation’s population, represent 40% of the people incarcerated in this country.

Speaking in front of the NAACP convention last July, Bill Clinton said he deeply regretted sending minor criminals to prison for far too long. “I signed a bill that made the problem worse, and I want to admit it,” he said.

When pressed at a recent private fundraiser about her comments while campaigning for the bill, Hillary Clinton said, “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”

The Clintons have simultaneously depended on black voters and thrown black voters under the bus for years now. Bill Clinton’s comments on Thursday were not the result of someone tired of being protested; his comments were the result of someone who has no shame in using black voters to get what they want.

Here’s the contradiction that black voters should pay close attention to: The 1994 crime bill and its resulting policies were supposedly designed to curb violent crime.

Yet the bill itself resulted in the bloating of prisons and jails with nonviolent offenders.

Here’s the other contradiction that black voters should pay close attention to: There is currently a candidate talking out of both sides of her mouth about black people, black protest, and the things that are necessary for black lives to matter in this country.

And here’s a really hard lump to swallow: Bill Clinton’s comments attempted to position Hillary Clinton as someone who has always worked for black lives to matter. Pinocchio’s nose has never grown so long.

Inevitably, the Clintons will wrangle a few prominent black figures to say that they, too, agree with Clinton’s comments.

That is to be expected, and is another example of how black voters are used to move an agenda, yet rarely get anything of value out of the experience. It’s eerily reminiscent of Clinton’s takedown of Sister Souljah in 1992.

The Clintons are notorious for finger wagging, particularly as it relates to black people. Ultimately, what Bill Clinton said Thursday in Philadelphia was that black people are problems to be solved, and that black protest is egregious because it supports black people who act badly, while people in the audience cheered and chanted “HRC! HRC!”

Yet to me, and to many black millennials, the Clintons are the problem to be solved. They should be ashamed of using Trump-like tactics to win votes that they could have chosen to win in an honest way – playing on the fears of white voters, all the while telling black voters that they know exactly what’s good for us. Black voters should be appalled and disgusted, and we should continue to hold them accountable for their role in harm that devastated black communities across the globe.

For many black millennials and other millennials of color, Clinton’s comments formed the straw that may have broken the camel’s back. If Chicago and Cleveland are anything, they are indications that millennials have the power to unseat politicians who are hostile to our agenda.

It is long past time that black voters, in particular black women and black millennials, decide they’ve had enough of this game, once and for all. My back is tired of being the path to the White House.

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