Former President Bill Clinton visits Baltimore churches in advance of primary, unrest anniversary

Bill Clinton campaigning in Md. for Hillary: "Something can happen in Baltimore now."

Former President Bill Clinton took to the pulpit at three African-American churches in Baltimore Sunday, addressing the impending anniversary of last year's unrest while campaigning for his wife, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Clinton referenced an article in Sunday's Baltimore Sun, in which Johns Hopkins sociologist Stefanie DeLuca said the events of the past year have started a conversation and brought the city to a pivotal moment "where something can happen."

"Something can happen in Baltimore now," Clinton said, "because of the sacrifice, unfair and cruel as it was, of Freddie Gray, because of the way you reacted to it."

"And something can happen in America today," he added. "It's up to you."

Clinton attended services at two churches on the city's west side — Bethel AME in Upton, and Carter Memorial Church of God in Christ in Hollins Market — before visiting Southern Baptist Church in Broadway East and seeing the church's senior center, which was rebuilt after burning in the riot.

"I can't believe you got it back up in a year," he told the Rev. Donte L. Hickman Sr. and his Southern Baptist congregation.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and leading mayoral candidates Catherine E. Pugh and Sheila Dixon joined Clinton at the various churches.

As Tuesday's primary approaches, Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead in Maryland over her Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to a Monmouth University poll last week. Fifty-seven percent of likely Democratic voters in the state support Clinton, to Sanders' 32 percent, the poll found.

Despite its late primaries, the tight races for both the Republican and Democratic nominations has brought Maryland more attention than usual in this presidential election. Sanders held a rally in Baltimore Saturday.

Clinton, a Baptist, played up spiritual themes in his remarks to the applause of the church crowds, all of which greeted him with hymns, waves and standing ovations. He repeatedly used the parable of the Good Samaritan to make his case for his wife's candidacy.

He said he grew up believing the story — about a man beaten by robbers and left half-dead on the side of the road, only to be ignored by passers-by until one stops to help — was merely a lesson in kindness.

What he didn't learn until later in life, he said, was that Israelites and Samaritans had long been at odds with each other, making the Samaritan's decision to stop to help the injured Jewish man all the more symbolic.

As president, Hillary Clinton would tear down racial and economic barriers, and continue President Barack Obama's efforts to expand health care to all Americans, he said.

He referenced her efforts exposing segregation in Alabama schools while working for the Children's Defense Fund to emphasize her commitment to working on behalf of minorities.

Clinton took a dig at leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and others who advocate for "walls, walls, walls, walls." He said Jesus commands Christians to love their neighbors, not exile them.

He said the election presents the country with a choice: to expand the number of people we consider neighbors and unite through common qualities, or to allow differences to divide us.

"Here in Baltimore, as you honor the life and mourn the loss of a young man who should not have died, you know that in the end, we can only make it if we have more neighbors," Clinton said. "We can only make it if we have more trust."

Clinton acknowledged the ills plaguing the U.S., including mass incarceration, the drug epidemic and murder rate. He thanked a group of anti-violence advocates, mothers whose children have been killed, for attending one of the services.

"[They] know what this week means to Baltimore, a very important one-year anniversary," he said. "I want to say, first and foremost, I honor these mothers because they have decided to redeem their loss and give more meaning to their children's lives by being a force to protect other children from the same fate."

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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