ATLANTA — Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received a rousing reception at historic Clark Atlanta University as she unveiled some of the first components an extensive agenda to reform our criminal justice system that she will roll out over the coming days.
Clinton called for an end to racial profiling by federal, state and local law enforcement and eliminating sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine. In addition, she vowed executive action as president to “ban the box” for federal employers and contractors, to help remove barriers to formerly-incarcerated individuals’ pathway back into the workplace. She also discussed the need for a more comprehensive strategy to create opportunities, including new investments in education, health care, housing and jobs.
Clinton was joined at the rally by Congressman John Lewis, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, former NBA player Grant Hill and R&B artists Usher and Monica. The event was her second in Atlanta today, following the Ministers Luncheon of the 16th Annual Creating Opportunity Conference where she delivered remarks.
“I am thrilled to be here at Clark Atlanta University, the heart of the AUC. And I’m happy to see a bunch of Panthers here,” she said as the thongs thundered with cheers for the former first lady of the United States. “How about Morehouse? We got any Morehouse men here? And how about Spelman College? These universities contribute so much to the community here in Atlanta and to our nation. You have trained generations of distinguished leaders. And I applaud you because I know I love visiting a school founded by the Methodist Church nearly 150 years ago.
The recently retired Secretary of State under President Obama first acknowledged Civil Rights legends Joseph E. Lowery and Congressman John Lewis before launching into her plans to help African Americans fight police brutality, racial profiling and undergo viable criminal justice reforms.
“And I was delighted to hear about your Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights. That is such a fitting tribute to a man who has devoted his life to advancing the values of equality and opportunity and dignity for all people,” she said. “But I am filled with gratitude for my friend, your Congressman, John Lewis being with us today. You know, he sacrificed his own body to bear witness to injustice, and by doing so he forced all of America to bear witness as well.
“I don’t know that we will ever adequately be able to thank John for everything he’s done to make it possible for all of us to be here,” Clinton continued, “and as you heard from Alexa Hurd, literally making it possible for her to be born in the hospital in Alabama where she was born.”
“As a teenager, I was privileged to hear Dr. King preach in Chicago. I was taken to hear him by my youth minister in the Methodist Church I attended. He spoke that evening in a sermon called ‘Staying Awake through the Revolution.’
“Afterward, I stood in a long line to shake his hand and to look up into his face. His grace and moral clarity were compelling. I can feel it still.
“I know that there are differences in the world we live in today and in the challenges we face, but the leaders of the civil rights movement had it right: organizing, mobilizing and politicizing, using nonviolence, using the power of the feelings that come forward.
“Now, my friends, I am going to get to some very important points that actually prove that Black lives do matter and we have to take action together.
“And I hope that we’ll have a chance to talk more, as I have been meeting with activists from the Black Lives Matter movement.
“But I want to recognize some of the women who were in the head of the civil rights movement back in the 1960s.
“Let’s remember Coretta Scott King, who was there with her husband every step of the way.
“Let’s remember the one and only Dr. Dorothy Height, who I served with on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, the most elegant, unstoppable woman you will ever meet.
“And here in Atlanta we are surrounded by so much history that it does inspire us to keep going, to keep chanting, to keep singing, because as the Scriptures tell us, never grow weary doing good.
“So to all the young people here today, those who are listening and those who are singing, let me say this: We need you. We need the promise of a rising generation of activists and organizers who are fearless in your advocacy and determination.
“Actually, a few weeks ago, I sat down with some of the people here. We had a very nice conversation. And they were full of energy and ideas, and they shared some of their experiences with me.
“And I understand and I appreciate their passion and their urgency. But as I told them then, we have to come together as a nation to make the changes that they are calling for.
“You know, in that meeting a young woman said they spoke about being outsiders in their own country, and those words broke my heart, coming from someone so young. And they also should stiffen our spines, because life does matter and we need to act like it matters.
“And I know very well for many white Americans it is tempting to close our eyes to the truth, to believe that bigotry is largely behind us, that institutionalized racism no longer exists. But as you know so well, despite our best efforts and our highest hopes, America’s long struggle with race is far from finished.
“More than half a century after Rosa Parks sat and Dr. King marched and John Lewis bled, race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind.
“And the facts are really clear. You know, the median wealth for white families is more than $134,000, for African American families it is just $11,000, because African Americans are three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage. African American men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white men convicted of the same offenses.
“Now, none of this is coincidence, my friends. In Charleston, we saw racial terrorism reach even into a holy sanctuary.
“And the names of young African American men and women cut down too young is a rebuke to us all.
“Walter Scott shot in the back in South Carolina.
“Tamir Rice shot in a park in Ohio. Unarmed and just 12 years old.
“Eric Garner choked to death after being stopped for selling cigarettes on a street in New York.
“Freddie Gray, his spine nearly severed while in police custody in Baltimore.
“And Sandra Bland, a young woman who knew her rights and did nothing wrong, but still ended up dying in a Texas jail cell.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have some issues to discuss and some proposals to make. If our friends will allow me to do it, they may actually find them to their liking.
“You know, it’s important to say out loud what I’m saying, because I believe all Americans, especially those of us with privilege and power, have a responsibility to face these facts. And we need to do a better job, not assuming that our experiences are everyone else’s.
“And we need all of us to try walking in one another’s shoes. I’m asking white parents to try to imagine what it would be like to sit your children down and have ‘The Talk.’ Or how we’d feel if people locked their car doors when we walked past.
“Now, I know how I’d feel if it was a child I knew who was manhandled by a police officer in school like we saw in South Carolina the other day.
“I’m talking about us exercising empathy to make it possible for people from every background, every race, every religion, to finally come together as one nation.
“And let’s not pretend to ignore hard truths about race and justice in America. We need to say them, own them, and then change them.
“And that’s why I began my campaign with a speech about the need to restore balance and fairness to our criminal justice system.
“One of my earliest jobs as a young lawyer was for the Children’s Defense Fund, studying the problem of young people incarcerated in adult jails in South Carolina.
“And when I directed the University of Arkansas’ School of Law’s legal aid clinic, I advocated on behalf of prison inmates and poor families. And I saw first-hand how our legal system can be stacked against those who have the least power and are the most vulnerable.
“So what are we going to do about it? If you see the toll on families, if you see the unfairness, then you’ve got to come together, you’ve got to consider working for reform for the criminal justice system. And even though it’s complex and urgent, the good news is we have a rare opportunity now at a time when you never see Democrats and Republicans agree on anything, there is a growing bipartisan movement in the Congress for common sense reforms in our criminal justice system.
“President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch have led the way, and Senators on opposite ends of the political spectrum from Chuck Schumer and Cory Booker and Dick Durbin to Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Chuck Grassley are actually working together. We need reform that can be felt on our streets and our courthouses, our jails, our prisons and our communities.
“First, we need smart strategies to keep us safe while rebuilding trust between law enforcement and our communities, especially communities of color. Let’s remember that everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law, and when everyone in every community is respected by the law.
“I think President Obama’s Task Force on Policing is a good place to start, and across the country police officers are out there doing their jobs honorably, putting themselves on the line to save lives, demonstrating how we can protect people without resorting to unnecessary force. We should learn from them and build on these examples.
“Well, thank you. Thank you all very much. I really appreciate it. And I appreciate the Congressman and the Mayor having my back.
“So I’m sorry, I appreciate their passion, but I’m sorry they didn’t listen because some of what they’ve been demanding I am offering and intend to fight for as president. For example, I will make sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are not used to buy weapons of war that have no place on the streets of our country.
“I will also work to make sure every police department in the country has body cameras that will help protect good people on both sides of the lens. I am also renewing my call that I started as a Senator for the end to racial profiling across America once and for all. And as President I will work with Congress to pass legislation to ban racial profiling by federal, state and local law enforcement. It is wrong. It is demeaning, and it does not keep us safe or help solve crimes. It’s time to put that practice behind us.
“We also have to end the era of mass incarceration as many law enforcement and other experts tell us. We have 5 percent of the world’s population, and 25 percent of the incarcerated population in the world. Of the more than 2 million Americans behind bars today, many are low-level offenders. Keeping them in prison does little to reduce the crime, and it tears apart families and communities. And it is tragic that 1 in every 28 children is now growing up with a parent in prison.
“In the United States if we brought back our prison populations to where it was several decades ago we’d also save money. So if you don’t care about the families and you don’t care about the over-incarceration, then think about us saving $28 billion, because we no longer incarcerate people who should not be there in the first place.
“So we have to work together to keep more non-violent drug offenders out of prison. Last year the Sentencing Commission reduced recommended prison times for some drug crimes, but I think we need to go further. For one we need to end private prisons and detention centers once and for all. Protecting public safety is the core responsibility of the government and it should never be outsourced or left to unaccountable corporations. And today I’m also pledging to eliminate the disparity in sentencing still between crack and cocaine, which disproportionately impacts African Americans and puts too many people in prison. We’re talking about two forms of the same drug it makes no sense to continue treating them differently. Let’s finish the job and fix this.
“And third, as we reform our criminal justice system we can’t forget about the families and communities that have been ravaged by crime, incarceration, and poverty. And we have to pay special attention to the people who have done their time, they’re out and they’re trying to rebuild their lives. Think of this, of the 600,000 prisoners who reenter society every year up to 60 percent of them face long-term unemployment. And that’s not just a problem for them and their families it’s a problem for all of us. It leads to repeat offenses. It creates a culture of hopelessness. People who have paid their debt to society need to be able to find jobs, not just closed doors and closed hearts.
“And I’m encouraged, because across the country employers like Walmart and Target, cities and states, even Republican governors like Chris Christie in New Jersey and Nathan Deal right here in Georgia are coming together to change this. The ban the box movement is giving former prisoners a chance to compete for jobs on a fair basis, by delaying background checks on criminal history until later in the hiring process and as president I will carry this effort forward. I will do what I can inside the federal government and with federal contractors to ban the box. We believe in second chances don’t we?
“So we need to seize this moment of bipartisan consensus to make a difference in people’s lives. But we also need to look beyond the specific criminal justice reforms to the deep seated social and economic inequities that divide our country. There, there is not as much consensus. I believe we need a comprehensive strategy to create opportunities in communities of color and to break the cradle to prison pipeline. We need new investments in education and healthcare and housing and jobs in poor communities.
“I have proposed what I’m calling the New College Compact. It will make college affordable and it will allow you to refinance your debt and save thousands of dollars. And I also am including special financial support for historically black colleges and universities. I am also going to work hard so that every family has access to high quality preschool to help children get ready to succeed. I will fight to raise the minimum wage and, yes, I will finally guarantee equal pay for equal work for women in America.
“And I want to make it easier for women and people of color to find the capital and support they need to become entrepreneurs and start small businesses. So I’m proposing new tax credits for businesses to invest in apprenticeships, especially for those providing opportunities to economically disadvantaged young people so that those young people not only can be trained, but be paid while they are being trained.
“But, look, the Republicans oppose practically all of this. They want to tear down the Affordable Care Act, which has extended healthcare to 18 million Americans. They’re stopping us from doing anything to stop the gun violence in our communities that stalks our children. Across the country Republican Governors, legislators and political operatives are also doing everything they can to make it harder for young people and people of color to vote.
“Now you look at John Lewis, look at what he did to make it possible for people to vote. And yet across the country there are governors and legislatures trying to put the brakes on and undermine it. Just recently in Alabama a strict new Voter ID law went into effect, and then the state government decided to close many of the motor vehicle offices where you would get the IDs, and guess what they closed them in those counties with the biggest majorities of African Americans. That is a blast from the Jim Crow past, and we’ve got to stop it in its tracks.
“And I think it’s fair to say all of the Republican candidates for president support economic policies that would further stack the deck for those at the top, and do little or nothing to help families in the middle class who are trying to work their way up. And some talk in coded racial language about free stuff, about takers and losers. They demonize President Obama and encourage the ugliest impulses of the paranoid fringe. You’ve heard this. We’ve all heard this before. It has no place in the politics of a great country, and it needs to stop.
“Instead of demonizing President Obama they ought to be thanking him for saving the economy. You know, they want us all to have amnesia. When he took office, we were losing 800,000 jobs every month. Now six-and-a-half years later, we’ve seen the creation of more than 13 million new jobs, and unemployment has been cut nearly in half. Manufacturing jobs are coming back. There are tough new rules on insurance companies, Wall Street banks and polluters. These are all achievements of the Obama presidency.
“Now I’m proud, I’m proud to be a Democrat. And I’m proud — I’m proud that when Democrats are in the White House Americans do better. They do better economically. And although I’m not running for my husband’s third term, or Barack Obama’s third term, I’m running for my first term, but I’m running as a proud Democrat.
“And I’ll tell you this, throughout this campaign and then in the White House, I’ll get up every single day and fight to defend the progress we’ve made under President Obama and build on it and go even further.
“I’m aware there are some who say President Obama is on the wrong trajectory, that we need a course correction. Well, I think that’s wrong. It plays right into the hands of Republicans who want to rip away everything we’ve achieved. We have to keep moving forward. We have to keep marching. We have to keep organizing. We have to keep our eyes on what we need to do in the 21st Century to give every child the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they look like. That is my mission as your president. That is what I am fighting for in this campaign.
“You know, from the day I went to work at the Children’s Defense Fund, I have been passionate about doing everything I can to help kids, and maybe it’s because my own mother had such a terrible life. She was a neglected, abandoned kid. Her parents didn’t want her. Her grandparents didn’t want her. She ended up working as a maid when she was 14. Luckily she worked for somebody who let her continue going to high school so she could try to finish her education. That’s as far as she got.
“But when I think about her life, I think about the lives of so many kids in our country today, and I want to work to even the odds for people who have the odds stacked against them. I’m just getting warmed up because, as I said in the debate, I’m a progressive who likes to get things done, and I haven’t won every battle, but I’ve learned from them all, and I still believe, as a smart man once said, there’s nothing wrong with America that can’t be cured by what’s right with America. We have to change in order to do that.
“So my friends, it really comes down to this, if we’re going to repair the fraying fabric of our communities and rebuilding the bonds of trust and respect, every American needs to step up. There are laws we should pass, programs we should fund. But much of the real work is going to come around kitchen tables over the stories we tell each other, in our offices, in our factories, on our farms. Those quiet moments where we have honest conversations with parents and children and friends and neighbors, because fundamentally what’s progress we make in our country is about the habits of our heart, how we treat each other, how we learn to see the humanity in those around us even if they are different from us, in fact especially if they are. Most of all it’s how we teach our children how they see others, how they see humanity.
“I’ve got to tell you I think often about something Andy Young once told me. We were together in Little Rock decades ago now. We were talking about the differences across the South during the Civil Rights Movement. There were a lot of communities that fought tooth and nail against integration and civil rights. Andy said, you know, in Atlanta we made a different choice.
“City leaders look at what was happening across the South, all the hate and the violence, and they said, you know, some place is going to get this right. And then they’re going to make it big. We need to be that place. And they adopted a slogan, The City Too Busy to Hate. Well, that was pretty smart. And this city thrived. It did become the face of the new South. We still have problems, we still have challenges. But we need more cities too busy to hate. And we need a country too busy to hate.
“It may be a big unusual for somebody running for president to say we need more love and kindness, but that’s exactly what I believe. We need to be too busy to hate and too loving to ignore, too loving ever to turn our backs on each other and our country. We need to come together. We have so many opportunities. If we just look in each other’s eyes and listen to each other. And then we roll up our sleeves and we get to work together.
“So I’m here to say thank you, thank you to this university, thank you to Atlanta, thank you to the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement, and to issue a challenge that all of us continue the work. Let’s make sure we finish it in the names of our values and our love for America.
“Thank you all.”