Clinton Is The Clear Choice On Race And Criminal Justice Reform

Terrance Heath

Little Zianna Oliphant, speaking through her tears at a city council meeting in Charlotte, said more about what’s really happening with policing in black communities than Donald Trump did in 90 minutes at Monday nights debate.

The candidates had a lot to say, at last night’s debate, when the question turned to police involved shootings of African-Americans, and the problem of inherent racism in our criminal justice system. (A problem that Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence thinks we can solve by just not talking about it.)

When moderator Lester Holt referenced recent shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte, posed the question, “So how do you heal the divide?”, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton acknowledged, “race still determines too much, often determines where people live, determines what kind of education in their public schools they can get, and, yes, it determines how they’re treated in the criminal justice system.” Clinton spoke of the need to restore trust between police officers and the communities they serve. More importantly, Clinton noted that respect between citizens and law enforcement should be a two-way street, saying, “Everyone should be respected by the law, and everyone should respect the law.”

Clinton’s criminal justice platform embraces the principle of mutual respect and trust that she called for in her remarks, by tackling the existence of inherent bias head on — just like Clinton did during the debate — and bringing police and communities together to solve it. Clinton’s platform includes $1 billion in first budget to find and fund the best training programs that address implicit bias, de-escalation, and community policing, and make them available nationwide. Clinton’s platform also addresses the use of excessive in law enforcement by limiting the availability of military weapons and equipment to police departments nationwide. The police response to the protests in Ferguson brought national attention the militarization of police departments.

This is the platform of the only one of the two major candidates to have sat down and listened the Mothers of the Movement, who have lost children to the volatile combination of implicit bias and the use of deadly force by police. It’s also the platform of a candidate who would almost certainly hear the voice of children like nine-year-old Zianna Oliphant, who poured out her heart at a city council meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, after the police-involved shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott.

“I feel like that we are treated differently than other people. I don’t like how we’re treated. Just because of our color doesn’t mean anything to me,” she said before breaking down in tears.

… Speaking through sobs, Oliphant continued: “We are black people, and we shouldn’t have to feel like this. We shouldn’t have to protest because y’all are treating us wrong. We do this because we need to and have rights.”

She said she was raised in Charlotte, adding, “I’ve never felt this way until now.”

“I can’t stand how we’re treated,” she continued. “It’s a shame that our fathers and mothers are killed, and we can’t even see them anymore. It’s a shame that we have to go to their graveyard and bury them. We have tears and we shouldn’t have tears. We need our fathers and mothers to be by our side.”

Through her tears, Zianna gave voice to the normally unheard trauma of children in African-American communities. Their fear that a police encounter might mean a mother or father never comes home again, is the other side of the same fear African-American parents have for our children. It’s not hard to imagine Hillary Clinton, who’s spent much of career working in the interests of children just like Zianna.

Though she spoke volumes about the pain at the heart of protests in Charlotte and elsewhere, Donald Trump is unlikely to ever hear Zianna Oliphant’s voice over his own bluster. Trump hasn’t been shy about telling us what he thinks of African-Americans. “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” he said, ostensibly to African-Americans, while speaking to an almost entirely white audience in Wisconsin.

Trump’s response at Monday night’s debate dripped with the same contempt as his previous statements about African-American communities. “We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African-Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot,” Trump said. But Trump is wrong about crime, and his wild assertions about the “hell” that blacks and Hispanics walk through on a daily basis, are no more based in reality that his claims about President Obama’s birth certificate. The rate of violent crime is at a 45 year low — down 20.3 percent during President Obama’s term in office alone.

When Trump says crime is up, he’s talking about the uptick in violent crime in the past couple of years. An increase in one or two years does not a trend make, but it does make an opening for Trump to exploit the racial fears of his base. When Trump says we “have to bring back law and order,” he’s talking about the unrest in cities like Charlotte, Ferguson, Baltimore, and Milwaukee in the wake of police-involved shootings of African-Americans (who are often unarmed). His proposals regarding such reflect a view that the outrage at police violence in these communities must be tamped down with more of the same.

A Trump presidency would result is even more police in African-American communities, with even more powerful weapons, and even more encouragement to use them. For African-American families, that would mean even greater chances of encountering police officers, armed with more deadly weapons, and more impunity in using them. It means more parents fearing for their children, and more children like Zianna Oliphant fearing for their mothers and fathers. It means that when it comes to safety and justice for our families and communities, the choice in this election couldn’t be clearer.

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