2016 Democrats Are All Talk, No Walk On Criminal Justice Reform

Democrats on the stump may talk a good game on criminal justice reform, but not so long ago, they talked about gangs of "super-predators."
Brian Snyder / Reuters

Criminal justice reform is a hot topic in 2016, especially for Democrats. But if you look beyond today’s campaign rhetoric about fixing our broken policing and criminal justice systems, you’ll soon find that the past positions of many Democratic candidates were much different.

This week on the “So That Happened” podcast, Huffington Post reporters Jason Linkins, Zach Carter and Arthur Delaney dive deep into the political pasts of some of the 2016 hopefuls.

Take a look (and listen) to see how each Democrat stacked up. (This segment starts at 33:57.)

Hillary Clinton

The Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994 has been portrayed as a mixed bag of policies containing elements supported by liberals and conservatives alike. But as many progressives now realize, the bill also contained a raft of policies detrimental to the urban poor and people of color.

In 1996, first lady Hillary Clinton defended her husband’s bill during a routine campaign stop in New Hampshire, telling the (nearly) all-white crowd of the dangers of roaming gangs of young “‘super-predators.”

The front-runner has been accused of trying to cozy up to parts of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, many of her past statements expressing strong support of the bill make it difficult for these activists to fully sign off on her.

Joe Biden

Some would say that Vice President Joe Biden has even more blood on his hands than Hillary when it comes to the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill and other tough-on-crime legislation from this era -- most of which he sponsored, authored or both, as in the case of the 1994 bill.

“Biden has sponsored more damaging drug war legislation than any Democrat in Congress,” wrote former HuffPost reporter Radley Balko on his blog, The Agitator, in 2008.

And as HuffPost politics reporters Matt Ferner and Nick Wing wrote just last week, “Biden authored portions of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine... The higher penalties for crack fueled mass incarceration and disproportionately affected African-American communities.”

Martin O’Malley

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is no better than Clinton or Biden after having done plenty of damage to the City of Baltimore while he was mayor -- the position that was his springboard to the governor’s mansion and the national stage.

As former head of Training for the Baltimore City Police Department and current Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Neil Franklin told Andrea Mitchell during the unrest following the killing of Freddie Gray, “In 2005... we had started this zero tolerance -- these programs here in Baltimore City under the leadership of then-Mayor Martin O’Malley… over 20 percent of those people who were arrested were released with no charges because there was no probable cause for the arrest. Does that sound familiar? Freddie Gray? No probable cause for the arrest?”

And his former cops aren’t the only people who aren’t fans of O’Malley. Former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of "The Wire," David Simon, said O'Malley's approach “taught the police department that they could go a step beyond the manufactured probable cause and the drug-free zones and the humbles -- [they could engage in] the targeting of suspects through less-than-constitutional procedure," according to The Marshall Project.

Bernie Sanders

The one candidate in this field who has stood against these types of disproportionately detrimental policies all along is Bernie Sanders.

Speaking about the Clinton crime bill on the floor of the House of Representatives in April of 1994, he pushed back against the idea that harsher penalties would decrease the crime rate.

"Mr. Speaker, all the jails in the world -- and we already imprison more people per capita than any other country -- and all of the executions in the world, will not make that situation right," he said. "We can either educate or electrocute. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails. Mr. Speaker, let us create a society of hope and compassion, not one of hate and vengeance."

He did, however, eventually vote for the sweeping bill because of one component. "I have a number of serious problems with the crime bill," he said that June, "but one part of it that I vigorously support is the Violence Against Women Act -- we urgently need the 1.8 billion dollars in this bill to combat the epidemic of violence against women on the streets and in the homes of America.”

Will past support of tough-on-crime policies come back to haunt any of these candidates? Listen to this week’s episode of "So That Happened" to find out.

This podcast was produced and edited by Adriana Usero and Peter James Callahan, and engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you're there, please subscribe, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost podcasts here.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience at sothathappened@huffingtonpost.com.
Go To Homepage

Popular in the Community