Against the backdrop of the Baltimore riots, Hillary Clinton announced far-reaching plans for criminal justice reform on Wednesday. Clinton spoke at Columbia University in New York City, where a campaign aide has indicated she will unveil her first major policy proposal. Clinton’s plan, according to the campaign aide, will aim to “end the era of mass incarceration”.
During the speech, the Democratic candidate for president spoke about Baltimore and the emergence of clear national pattern, “For yet again, the family of a young black man is grieving a life cut short. Yet again, the streets of American city are marred by violence. By shattered glass, by shouts of anger, and by shows of force. Yet again, a community is reeling. Its fault lines laid bare, and its bonds of trust and respect frayed. Yet again, brave police officers have been attacked in the line of duty. What we have seen in Baltimore should, indeed I think does, tear at our soul. From Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable.”
Clinton provided something of a sneak preview of her speech at a Tuesday night fundraiser in New York City. She told donors that criminal justice reform was needed, and that the nation needed to end its policy of mass incarceration for non-violent drug offenders. Her comments were greeted with enthusiastic applause.
She shared her thoughts with the audience, stating:
It’s heartbreaking. The tragic death of another young African American man. The injuries to police officers. The burning of people’s homes and small businesses. We have to restore order and security. But then we have to take a hard look as to what we need to do to reform our system.
In Clinton’s Wednesday address, she outlined a detailed list of reforms including requiring police officers to wear body cameras, shifting to a treatment rather than an incarceration approach to drug offenders, and increasing funding for mental health programs.
Clinton also discussed racial disparities in the current justice system, where African-Americans are disproportionately searched, arrested, and convicted. She also to pointed out that when convicted, black defendants are sentenced to longer prisons sentences on average than whites convicted of the same crimes.
Hillary Clinton’s willingness to address the deep injustices embedded inside America’s criminal justice system is refreshing, particularly against the backdrop of the Baltimore riots. Historically, the easiest path for a politician to take during civil unrest is to court “backlash voters” by talking the tough language of the ”law and order” reactionary.
Fortunately, rather than exploiting people’s base fears to drum up votes, Clinton is opting to take the issue of criminal justice reform head on. By calling for meaningful changes to how the police departments and the courts in America operate, Hillary Clinton is signaling that she intends to shake up the law enforcement Status quo. That call for change is long overdue, and it is refreshing that a major presidential candidate intends to add her voice to the growing chorus demanding criminal justice reform.