Days after Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted one of his events to call on him to address criminal justice and racial issues, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday strongly condemned the arrest and death of Sandra Bland and called for criminal justice and police reforms.
“Our criminal justice system is out of control,” he told MSNBC. “The number of African-Americans and Hispanics who are in jails is disproportionately high.”
The Democratic presidential candidate specifically called for reforming sentencing policies, like eliminating mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses and examining police militarization and police officers' use of force.
“We need a real hard look at the way police departments function in America," he said. “We need to figure out a way in terms of how we treat African-Americans so that young people can walk down the street without having to worry about whether they are going to be harassed or shot in the back."
Sandra Bland was arrested on July 10 in Texas after being pulled over for a minor traffic offense. Three days later, she was found hanged to death in her jail cell. On Tuesday, law enforcement officials released a dashboard camera video of the incident, showing Bland being forcibly dragged by a police officer and threatened with a Taser.
Sanders told MSNBC on Wednesday that the video of Bland's arrest was "painful and dreadful" to watch.
“What you saw is an aggressive, overactive police officer who dragged this woman out of her car, assaulted her, sent her to jail for what crime? A minor traffic violation,” Sanders said. “That happens all over this country, and it especially happens to people of color."
Over the weekend, Sanders was speaking at the Netroots Nation conference, an annual gathering of progressive activists, when Black Lives Matter protesters pressed him to address racial inequality and criminal justice. He appeared frustrated, and reiterated the economic stances he has raised in his campaign, such as reducing youth unemployment. He also reminded protesters that he has fought for civil rights since the 1960s, protesting segregated housing in Chicago and attending the March on Washington.
"Black lives of course matter. But I've spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights," he told them.
Sanders has continually argued that combating racism is intertwined with his platform of combating economic inequality, which has angered progressive activists focused on fighting racial inequality. But since Saturday, he has been more outspoken about the need for criminal justice reform.
On Wednesday, Sanders acknowledged that his presidential campaign has not done enough outreach to black and Hispanic voters.
"We've only been in this race for president for about two and a half months, so we have a lot of work to reach out to the African-American community and the Hispanic community," he said. "But I am proud of the record I have established in all of my years in Congress. I am proud of the fact that I have been a leader in the fight for civil rights and social justice, and we are going to get that record out to the American people."