Candidates condemn police violence and mass incarceration in PBS Democratic debate.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders haven’t addressed criminal justice reform issues much in the past couple presidential primary debates. But Thursday night during the PBS NewsHour Democratic Debate at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, both candidates blasted systemic racism and mass incarceration, and called for major criminal justice reform.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders described mass incarceration as “one of the great tragedies in this country” and called for radical reform to “a broken justice system.”
He criticized over-policing and racial profiling, saying blacks and whites “do marijuana at the same rates,” but black individuals are much more likely to get arrested and to receive harsher sentences than their white counterparts.
Sanders pledged to work to end mandatory minimum sentencing laws, demilitarize local police departments and reduce recidivism rates. Most boldly, he promised that by the end of his first term as president, the U.S. would no longer lead the world in incarceration.
He took a bit of criticism on that final pledge.
Slate writer Leon Neyfakh described it as “an absurd promise” that he cannot possibly fulfill because the president has “no direct control over most of the nation’s correctional facilities.”
To Sanders’ credit, he openly admitted that no president has the power to reform everything he’s called out along the campaign trail. He said that his campaign is intended to spark political revolution, but it’s a revolution that must extend past the office of president.
Clinton took the opportunity to call for an end to police violence during Thursday’s debate. She spoke about Dontre Hamilton, a man fatally shot by a Milwaukee police officer Apr. 30, 2014, describing him as “a young man, unarmed, who should still be with us.”
Autopsy reports showed that officer Christopher Manney shot Hamilton 14 times, with half of the bullets hitting him in the back. Despite that, Manney’s actions were determined “justified self-defense,” and he was never charged in Hamilton’s death, as reported by the the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Clinton also connected criminal justice reform to issues like systemic racism, poor education and unemployment.
“When we talk about criminal justice reform we also have to talk about education and jobs,” the former Secretary of State said.
Clinton’s criminal justice reform record has been questioned by critics, however, including prominent scholar and author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration and the Age of Colorblindness,” Michelle Alexander.
Per Democracy Now!
“I can’t believe Hillary would be coasting into the primaries with her current margin of black support if most people knew how much damage the Clintons have done—the millions of families [that were] destroyed the last time they were in the White House thanks to their boastful embrace of the mass incarceration machine and their total capitulation to the right-wing narrative on race, crime, welfare and taxes,” Alexander recently wrote.
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