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Vowing to “end the era of mass incarceration,” presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for sweeping changes to the country’s criminal justice system on Wednesday as well as a recognition of “hard truths” about race and law enforcement tactics nationwide.
"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 in remarks at Columbia University on Wednesday.
Listing the series of unarmed black men who have recently died after altercations with law enforcement -- including Freddie Gray, whose death while in police custody sparked riots in Baltimore this week -- Clinton said that the deaths should “galvanize” Americans to fight for change.
“My heart breaks for these young men and their families,” she said. “We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America.”
Calling President Barack Obama’s commission on police reform “a good place to start,” Clinton laid out a series of policy proposals, including a call for body cameras for every police department in the country.
“That will help protect good people on both sides of the lens,” she said.
The former New York senator also suggested that federal funds should be used to bolster public safety, not for “weapons of war that have no place on our streets.”
And she pushed for more resources to treat mental health issues and drug addiction, saying that "our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions."
Echoing Obama's comments on the Baltimore riots Tuesday, she emphasized that leaders should address not just specifics of criminal justice policy, but underlying causes like economic inequality and the opportunity gap between black and white Americans.
“That is a symptom, not a cause of what ails us today,” she said of the need for policing reforms.
Her statement about ending "the era of mass incarceration" is an implicit rebuke to one of her husband's policy legacies.
It follows an apology of sorts that Bill Clinton issued earlier this week in a new foreword on a book about criminal justice reform. "By 1994, violent crime had tripled in 30 years," he wrote. "Our communities were under assault. We acted to address a genuine national crisis. But much has changed since then. It's time to take a clear-eyed look at what worked, what didn't, and what produced unintended, long-lasting consequences."
Presidential contenders from both parties have highlighted the need for criminal justice reforms, including Republicans like Rand Paul and Rick Perry.
- Mark Murray and Carrie Dann