Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the most substantive speech of her nascent presidential campaign so far on Wednesday.
In her address at Columbia University, Clinton called for a major overhaul in the US criminal justice system. She repeatedly lambasted “the mass incarceration that we currently practice” and overly punitive, “arbitrary” criminal statutes, which she said result in racial discrimination.
“There is something profoundly wrong when African-American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts. There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes,” Clinton said. “We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance and these recent tragedies should galvanize us to come together as a nation to find our balance again.”
Clinton’s speech came in the wake of Monday’s racially-charged riots in Baltimore, Maryland, in which violent protesters raged after the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Grey, who died on April 19 after suffering a fatal spinal injury in police custody. The incident is just one of a number of controversial police-involved deaths of African-American men, which protesters have attributed to a racist criminal justice system.
For her part, Clinton said she saw a “unmistakable and undeniable” pattern in their deaths.
“Yet again the family of a young black men is grieving a life cut short. Yet again the streets of an American city are marred by violence, by shattered glass, and shouts of anger and shows of force. Yet again a community is reeling, its fault lines laid bare,” she said. “From Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable.”
The Democratic presidential front-runner said it is not enough to simply give speeches on the topic, however. She called for “real reforms that can be felt on our streets, in our courthouses, in our jails, and prisons.” Notably, Clinton endorsed police body cameras for officers across the US.
“We should make sure every police department in the country has body cameras to record interactions between officers on patrol and suspects. That will improve transparency and accountability. It will help protect good people on both sides of the lens. For every tragedy caught on tape, there surely have been many more that have remained invisible,” she said. “This is a common sense step that we should take.”
Clinton also blasted the over-militarization of US police departments, which critics say was on full display during last summer’s demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a police officer. There, officers used military-style weapons and vehicles in order to put down the protests, which also erupted into violence and looting.
“We can start by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets,” Clinton said. “We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe.”
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