President Barack Obama issued a call to action on criminal justice reform on Wednesday during his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
In an optimistic address that focused on the power of democracy to affect change and positively shape the future, Obama told the nation that it will take more than a vote for Hillary Clinton to correct longstanding inequalities in the U.S. legal system.
“If you want more justice in the justice system, then we’ve all got to vote not just for a president, but for mayors, and sheriffs, and state’s attorneys and state legislators,” said Obama. “That’s where the criminal laws are made, and we’ve got to work with police and protesters until laws and practices are changed. That’s how democracy works.”
Indeed, while presidents and congressional lawmakers often get blamed for failing to reform the criminal justice system ― and also for breaking it ― state and local officials have huge sway over the policies that guide our approach to policing, incarceration, sentencing and other critical issues in this arena. This is true for the state legislatures that helped drive mass incarceration in the 1980s, all the way on down to the county prosecutors who refuse to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.
But in a campaign that will likely feature heated debate about which candidate cares the most about law and order, Obama made sure to bolster his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s credentials on justice, law enforcement and race issues as well.
“Hillary knows we can work through racial divides in this country when we realize the worry black parents feel when their son leaves the house isn’t so different than what a brave cop’s family feels when he puts on the blue and goes to work; that we can honor police and treat every community fairly,” he said.
“She knows that acknowledging problems that have festered for decades isn’t making race relations worse, it’s creating the possibility for people of good will to join and make things better,” Obama added.