In response to a wave of racial unrest in the United States, most recently in Baltimore, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday called for a major overhaul of the criminal justice system, including requiring the use of body cameras by all police departments and a reduction in the number of Americans sent to prison.
“We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America,” Clinton said in her first policy speech as a candidate for president in 2016.
In her somber 30-minute remarks, Clinton described what she called the unfair treatment of black men in America, who are more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes and sentenced to longer prison terms.
“We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans,” said Clinton, delivering the keynote address at the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University in New York. “Between police and citizens, yes, but also across society.”
Clinton spoke about recent clashes in Ferguson, Mo., Charleston, S.C., Cleveland, New York City and Baltimore, where a 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray, died from a spinal injury suffered while he was in police custody.
“What we’ve seen in Baltimore should, indeed does, tear at our soul,” she said. “And, from Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable.”
Echoing President Barack Obama’s remarks Tuesday, Clinton praised police officers who have been attacked and criticized protesters who she said are setting back the cause of justice.
“Let’s remember that everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone in every community is respected by the law,” she said.
Clinton called for changes to probation and drug diversion programs, increased treatment for mental health and drug addiction, and pursuing alternative sentences for lesser offenses, specifically those committed by young people.
Some of her proposals strike at the heart of policies implemented by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who in the 1990s put more officers on the streets, lengthened prison terms and authorized billions of dollars for prison construction, among other things.
Hillary Clinton has been criticized by some for not laying out specific policy proposals in her campaign, now two and a half weeks old. Her campaign staff announced that she would deliver the New York speech late Tuesday afternoon, though she accepted the invitation in November. She previously spoke at the same event in 2001.
“Let me clear: This is not a campaign stop and we are not campaigning,” said Dinkins, a former mayor of New York, before joking that he expects to attend the next inauguration.
Clinton is the overwhelming front-runner for her party’s nomination, but she will face some competition. Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, will announce he is running for president as a Democrat Thursday. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to announce next month he is running. O’Malley, a former mayor of Baltimore, cut a trip to Europe short to return to Baltimore after the protests erupted.
Both of Clinton’s proposals – the use of body cameras and the end to what she called mass incarcerations – have been embraced by Obama as well as other Democrats. In a speech last month, O’Malley called for body cameras and mandatory reporting of police brutality and excessive force to the FBI.
In December, Obama asked Congress for $75 million to help states buy 50,000 more body-worn cameras. Lawmakers have not acted on the proposal.
Clinton said a task force on policing created by Obama provided “a good place to start” but in some cases could go further. She did not say how she would pay for body cameras or other proposals.
Individual cameras can cost from $800 to $1,200. Thirty-nine percent of agencies responding to a Justice Department-funded study of police cameras by the Police Executive Research Forum identified price as a primary reason for not ordering the cameras.
Clinton said she was heartened that changes to the criminal justice system had found some bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill, singling out the efforts of four senators of both parties, including fellow presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
“It is rare to see Democrats and Republicans agree on anything today,” she said. “But we’re beginning to agreeing on this: We need to restore balance to our criminal justice system.”
But in a statement after her speech Paul blamed Bill Clinton for the explosion of the prison population.
“Not only is Hillary Clinton trying to undo some of the harm inflicted by the Clinton administration, she is now emulating proposals introduced by Sen. Rand Paul over the last several years, and we welcome her to the fight,” his campaign said.