Hillary, Racial Justice, Mandatory Minimums and the Death Penalty. At this point in the campaign for the White House it’s still true: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is ahead of Hillary Clinton on criminal justice reform issues. The fact is Hillary Clinton can speak the platitudes of racial justice but on major issues she still doesn’t support policy consistent with those pronouncements. We now know Clinton supports mandatory minimums sentencing policy and the death penalty.
After finally supporting an equal penalty for crack and powder cocaine sentencing, twenty years after her husband stood against the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s ruling to make the penalty 1:1 in 1995, Hillary Clinton is stuck in the 1990s regarding the death penalty and mandatory minimums — two of the most racially biased sentencing tools in the American criminal justice system.
“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,” Clinton keeps repeating from the campaign trail.
Is that right? Then why support policy that helps sentence Blacks longer than whites for the same crimes? Shouldn’t all defendants be sentenced by a judge and receive a punishment for their specific case? Is it OK with Clinton to have sentencing policies that are applied in a racist fashion against Black defendants? Why are we forcing judges to hand down long sentences? Didn’t we just learn over 30 years that prosecutors using mandatory minimums made the U.S. number one in the world in incarceration? What federal judge would sentence lightly on a violent crime?
The fact is that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to receive a mandatory punishment and therefore a longer sentence. This has been known for decades. Tinkering with safety valves, which are less likely to be applied to Black defendants, is not the answer.
In 2010, 10,694 individuals received a mandatory sentence in federal prison. Hispanic offenders were 38.3 percent of those who were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty and Blacks were at 31.5 percent. In 2010, 70 percent of federal defendants receiving mandatory minimum penalty were either Black or Hispanic. Does Hillary Clinton support mandatory minimums as racially applied in this way? Clinton has been on the political scene long enough to have seen study after study and panel discussion after panel discussion on racially disparate sentences in the U.S. justice system. It’s long past time to act on those facts.
Is Hillary Clinton in favor of a death penalty that has been statistically proven to be racist? Is she in favor of the death penalty as applied to Clayton Lockett? In Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence are 97% higher for those whose victim was white. In Washington State jurors are three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant. A study in California found that defendants who killed whites were over 3 times more likely to be sentenced to death. Does Hillary Clinton favor that death penalty? This type of data has been around for decades.
And this is a member of the Democratic party talking. Democrats have the support of over 90 percent of African American voters at the polls. Why is it so hard for some Democrats to stand against policies that adversely impact African Americans?
Though the public is split on the death penalty, where’s the political risk with regard to ending mandatory minimums? Every recent poll shows that a wide group of Americans on the right and left are against mandatory minimums sentencing policy. A 2014 poll by Reason magazine revealed, “that 77 percent of Americans favor eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentences so that judges have the ability to make sentencing decisions on a case-by-case basis.”
The Black Women’s Roundtable and ESSENCE released a poll of 2,000 Black women in September revealing that over 80 percent polled were against mandatory minimums.
The American criminal justice system is now a prosecutor driven entity that often crushes poor minorities who can’t afford representation. Over 97 percent of defendants never see a jury trial. We’ve known the results for years: Long sentences, rare jury trials and defendants pleading guilty to charges to simply expedite cases.
Perhaps Clinton’s prosecutor friends from Yale or DOJ would be unhappy if she stood against mandatory sentences. Who knows. But as a general question: How many more studies and stats do we need before we can confirm patterns regarding justice and race in America? How long will it take for some policy makers to recognize the data and act accordingly?