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Hillary Clinton discussed race, police brutality and gun violence in Philadelphia

She said racial bias is something that has been part of our "DNA"

Philadelphia CNN  — 

Hillary Clinton bluntly assessed the state of race relations in the United States on Wednesday, telling a mostly African-American audience that racial bias is something that has been part of our “DNA going back probably millennia.”

Clinton, as part of her effort to reach out to African-Americans voters, headlined a roundtable on gun violence in Philadelphia, an event that featured graphic descriptions of shootings at the hands of the police and direct questions about how she will deal with race issues as president.

“We all have implicit biases,” Clinton said at St. Paul’s Baptist Church. “What we need to do is be more honest about that and surface them. Because today, most people believe that they don’t have those biases.”

Clinton, a candidate running to be the first person to succeed the first black president of the United States, has talked about race throughout her campaign, acknowledging what she regularly calls “deep seeded racism” that plagues the United States.

But Clinton’s African-American outreach has not always been easy, however. Clinton’s support for then-President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill has enraged many young black activists, some of whom have protested her events. A group of 10 protesters stood outside her Philadelphia roundtable on Wednesday passing out letters that called for Clinton to pardon “all current and former federal prisoners unjust convicted or sentenced as a result of the ’94 crime bill.”

But Clinton’s remarks – which were interspersed with stories about losing black children and coping with that loss – appeared to carry more weight.

Tanya Brown Dickerson, mother of Brandon Tate, spoke at length about her son’s 2014 death at the hands of police, describing his shooting in detail, down to the way his body lay on the ground and how the bullet entered his skull.

Before Dickerson endorsed Clinton, she said she had direct questions for the former first lady.

“I want to know, is this presidential candidate still a mother? I know what I see on television. But is she a mother,” she asked, Clinton seated nearby. “Can she understand where I am in my life? How this hole in my gut won’t close?”

Dickerson, after acknowledging that she too has a daughter named Chelsea, laid out her requirements for Clinton.

“If I’m voting for Secretary Clinton, I’m expecting her to have my back,” she said. “If I’m going to ride or die for her, I want her to ride or die for me.”

The former secretary of state appeared moved by the story, telling Dickerson that she “can’t even imagine” losing her daughter in the same way.

“I think that these women are asking all of us to ride and die, they are asking all of us to be there for them,” Clinton said. “I can only guarantee you I will do everything I can imagine” for them.

The panel also included Nicole Paultre-Bell, fiance of Sean Bell; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; and Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland. All three women lost their loved ones at the hands of police or while in police custody.

“When a campaign gets vicious, pay attention to what it is really about,” Reed-Veal said of the acrimony between Clinton’s campaign and and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her Democratic primary opponent. “It is about division and separation. She is trying to unite.”

Clinton aides have said that meetings with mothers like Dickerson and similar events she has headlined in South Carolina, Michigan and elsewhere, have provided the former secretary of state with a deeper understanding and appreciation for what these mothers go through after losing children.

And Clinton now believes, as she has said before, that white Americans need to share that understanding.

“We have to be honest about the systemic racism and that particularly is the responsibility of white people, not just people in public life, but all of us, who have to keep trying to put ourselves in the position of what goes through the minds and hearts of so many people in our country who know they aren’t getting a fair shake,” Clinton said. “They are not being treated equally and we can’t assume that our experience is somehow enough to guide us. We have to be open and listening and then responsive.”