The Criminal Justice Moment of the South Carolina Debate

There was only one reference to criminal justice issues in the South Carolina debate. It had Obama and Hillary in agreement. John Edwards didn't weigh in on it, but he would agree as well.

From the transcript: [More....]

The one thing we -- when I say we should not focus on my race or Hillary's gender in terms of choosing a candidate, that is not to say that we should be ignoring the very real problems that still exist in terms of race in America. (APPLAUSE)

So for example, if we know that in our criminal justice system, African-Americans and whites, for the same crime, receive -- are arrested at very different rates, are convicted at very different rates, receive very different sentences. (APPLAUSE)

That is something that we have to talk about. But that's a substantive issue and it has to do with how do we pursue racial justice.

If I am president, I will have a civil rights division that is working with local law enforcement so that they are enforcing laws fairly and justly. But I would expect... (APPLAUSE)

... a white president or a woman president should want to do the same thing, because I believe that the pursuit of racial equality, of the perfection of this union, is not just a particular special interest issue of the African-American community. That is how all of us are going to move forward.

And to the extent that we don't deal with those issues, those longstanding, deep seeded issues, we will continue to be hampered. We will be competing with the world with one hand tied behind our backs.

CLINTON: And, you know, Wolf, the... (APPLAUSE) .. the challenge is for us to address all of these issues. [Discusses gender issues].... we not only are running for office, but we each, in our own way, have lived it.

We have seen it. We have understood the pain and the injustice that has come because of race, because of gender. And it's imperative that, as we move forward with our campaign, we make it very clear that each of us will address these issues.

You don't hear the Republicans talking about any of this. You don't hear them talking about the disgrace of a criminal justice system that incarcerates so many more African-Americans proportionately than whites. ...... So we have a specific set of policies and priorities that are really part of who we are, as well as part of what the Democratic Party stands for.

Hillary didn't say how she'd fix the problem, but I don't much care for Obama's solution, which again was:

If I am president, I will have a civil rights division that is working with local law enforcement so that they are enforcing laws fairly and justly.

The civil rights division is part of the Department of Justice, a prosecutorial agency. He'd have prosecutors working with cops.

That's not what we need. We need Congress to change the laws that have a disparate racial effect. Specifically, mandatory minimum sentences.

DOJ, civil or criminal can't do that, only Congress can, and it sure would help if we had a President who would urge Congress to do so.

Afterhought: Just a reminder that the discussion about Obama's "present" votes on sex abuse victims' privacy rights was not about a crime bill but a civil law respecting sealing of records. His website explains (HB 854). It doesn't count as a criminal justice moment.

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    I was hoping you would (none / 0) (#1)
    by Jgarza on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 01:30:10 AM EST
    post about this.  AS soon as a heard it in the debate, I thought, I wonder what Jeralyn thinks of this ?

    Address Mandatory Minimums AS SENATORS. (none / 0) (#2)
    by Ben Masel on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 02:09:37 AM EST
    I'd extracted a commitment from Sen. Feingold to work on Mandatory Sentences in his current term early in '04. Come Feb. '05, he told me he hoped Obama would take the lead, so that he could ride second seat.

    Just after the Howard U debate last June, I saw Russ at the State Dem. convention, told him how all the Senators running for Pres. had expressed a belief Mandatory Sentences needed varying degrees of reform. Russ: "even Hillary?" (He'd missed the debate flying in.)  

    Obviously, nothing's happened since.

    I'm voting for Gravel.

    Civil Rights Division: uniforms (none / 0) (#3)
    by Ben Masel on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 02:21:16 AM EST
    There's at least a few (or used to be?) with a role more akin to uniformed cops than prosecutors.

    As I was being clubbed by the LAPD for displaying a "Stop the Drug War" sign outside the 2000 Dem Convention in the space designated by a federal Judge for individual protest, a uniformed Civil Rights Division guy approached, told the 2 LAPD "I don't care what you do to him if you find him in an alley, but you can't do that here. I'm responsible for protecting his Civil Rights on this block."

    The LAPDs fell back into the skirmish line with their fellows. The City Attorney's office settled promptly.

    jeralyn: not to be picky, but (none / 0) (#4)
    by cpinva on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 10:17:52 AM EST
    John Edwards didn't weigh in on it, but he would agree as well.

    i'm curious as to how you know this? did mr. edwards tell you this personally? crystal ball? prior recorded statements he's made on the issue?

    he said so publicly and loudly (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 07:03:44 PM EST
    Example: in the interview with ebony jet magazine, I've written before a few times on it.

    Ebony Jet:

    John Edwards:

        We must end America's disgraceful two criminal justice systems... I will reform sentencing rules to address punishment disparities for crimes involving crack and powder cocaine and review mandatory minimum sentences for first-time, nonviolent offenses. I support incarceration alternatives--like drug courts--for first-time, nonviolent offenders as well as re-entry programs that include drug treatment and education to help ex-offenders get back on track. After someone has paid their debt to society, I would reinstate their right to vote in federal elections.

    ...I will help financially-strapped areas invest in community policing that builds trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. We must focus on strategies that work and stop those that don't--like racial profiling. I will also reform probation and parole so that people coming out of prison get support from their community and those who commit crimes again are held accountable. With the number of African-American young men who are victims of violence or incarcerated, we simply cannot just build more prisons. We must do more.

    So Sad (none / 0) (#5)
    by SFHawkguy on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 11:25:28 AM EST
    It's pretty apparent that the Democrats have no interest in rocking the boat on these issues.  Just like immigration.

    It frustrates me to hear the candidates give lip service to racial disparities in our criminal system and not do a darn thing about it.  Both Hillary and Obama are in the Senate for crying out loud!!!

    I guess politicians have decided there is no upside in remedying America's racist and fascist criminal justice system.  I get how they conclude this.  But just because it may be politically difficult does not exculpate these candidates from their part in continuing a racist and unjust system.  I actually believe the Democrats are more culpable than the Republicans.

    Maybe the only way to fix this is by Presidential decree?  Maybe a president can commute the sentence of every person sitting in jail on crack sentences (that has served his time if it were powder) or commute the sentences of non-violent users after a specified time.  Maybe that is the only way to have progress.

    This country desperately needs a real civil rights leader--one who takes political risks to point out our rascist and fascist system.  I don't see Obama doing that--nor do I see Hillary or Edwards doing that.

    Hillary's comments on Obama (none / 0) (#6)
    by Audine on Tue Jan 22, 2008 at 06:40:29 PM EST
    I keep watching all of your shows dailey and not once have I heard what I truly believe is the truth--whether Obama can walk on water or not to some of his, the rest of us wish to see, just what we saw on Jan.21st. 2008 --he was put on the carpet for the TRUTH by BOTH of his party members and I for one felt good !!! WE NEED TO KNOW NOW AMERICA NOT 8 YEARS FROM NOW--I am for HILLARY but for the life of me I can't see why John Edwards wouldn't be right behind her--?? I was the first to say while campaigning for Hillary in N.H. That Obama someday would be a great president-but he more I open my eyes I see Obama can only speak well when there is no one in the room to remind of the truth--we need to watch EVERY CANDIDATE CLOSELY -I am praying that you all do because I am 64-and not well , my husband is even worse off then myself, my family, my friends, we all need the right person in that WHITE HOUSE--and do not talk out of both sides of your face Obama, there are plenty of photos showing YOUR hand is not over your heart, when it comes to OUR FLAG-tell us like it is OBAMA--we'll like you better--right now NO SALUTE TO OUR FLAG---NO LIFE IN OUR WHITE HOUSE-and stop whinning about Hillary and Bill , what the heck would you be like in a real crisis???? You sound like HUSSAIN   when  our  great men and women took him from his castle in the hole !!

             Written with truth and respect for all  !!
              Audine  (DEANY)  DONAHUE  in N.H.