Hillary Clinton on Wednesday will announce a massive proposal for criminal justice reform during a speech at Columbia University in New York, according to the Associated Press, as well as address the recent riots in Baltimore that left a city burning and reeling from violence. But this won't be the first time the Democratic presidential candidate has spoken on the increased tension between black communities and police officials in Baltimore and elsewhere in the country. During a New York fundraiser Tuesday, Clinton called the Baltimore riots "heartbreaking" and described the death of Freddie Gray as "tragic."
It is heartbreaking. The tragic death of another young African-American man. The injuries to police officers. The burning of peoples' 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 what will be the most significant policy speech so far of her presidential run, Clinton will unveil her plans on how to change the country's criminal system that disproportionately incarcerates black men, according to AP sources. Her Wednesday speech will ask for reforms to probation, increased support for mental health and drug treatments, and lessened punishments for non-violent offenders. Clinton is also set to call for body cameras for police departments across the country, which has become a critical debate in recent police shootings.
During the height of Monday's riots in Baltimore, Clinton took to Twitter to call for peace and demanded answers over the mysterious circumstances surrounding Gray's death. The 25-year-old died after sustaining a life-ending spinal injury while in Baltimore police custody earlier this month. The riots that followed Gray's funeral led to more than 250 arrests. Clinton tweeted, "Tonight I am praying for peace & safety for all in Baltimore, & for Freddie Gray's family - his death is a tragedy that demands answers. -H."
For Clinton, the problem is much bigger than instances of police violence. There is no question that an institutionalized bias against black men exists in this country's judicial system. When Clinton spoke out after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, she made it a point to highlight that there was massive reform needed to ensure equal treatment in the eyes of the law.
Those families and those communities and our country deserve a fair and full accounting as well as whatever substantive reforms are necessary to assure quality justice and respect for every citizen.
And during a San Francisco speech last August, Clinton said the country could no longer ignore the inequities that continued to pervade the judicial system. Her poignant remarks, made on the 51st anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech, challenged the audience to imagine if the roles of black and white were reversed.
Imagine what we would feel and what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers instead of the other way around. If white offenders received prison sentences ten percent longer than black offenders for the same crimes. If a third of all white men — just look at this room and take one-third — went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that. That is the reality in the lives of so many of our fellow Americans in so many of the communities in which they live.
Police violence and race relations will be hot-button issues in the upcoming presidential election, and all eyes will be watching to see how Clinton's views on criminal reform carry not only in Baltimore but across the country.
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