Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she’s “very pleased” that the U.S. Department of Justice is moving forward with investigations into recent cases involving the deaths of black men and the conduct of police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, weighing in on the controversies as unrest continued across the country over recent grand jury decisions.
Speaking Thursday at a women’s conference in Massachusetts, Mrs. Clinton prefaced her remarks by talking about the criminal justice system, which has come under the spotlight in the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to pursue charges against a New York City police officer in the choking death of an unarmed black man and a separate grand jury’s declining to indict a Ferguson police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man.
“I know that a lot of hearts are breaking, and we are asking ourselves, ‘Aren’t these our sons? Aren’t these our brothers?’” Mrs. Clinton said. “Those families and those communities, and our country, deserve a full and fair accounting, as well as whatever substantive reforms are necessary to ensure equality, justice, and respect for every citizen.”
On Wednesday, news broke that a grand jury would not indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the choking death of unarmed 43-year-old Eric Garner over the summer on Staten Island. That followed the recent decision of a grand jury not to bring criminal charges against white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Mrs. Clinton, seen as a frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination if she runs, said that more broadly, “each of us” has to grapple with some “hard truths” about “race and justice in America.”
“Because despite all the progress we’ve made together, African-Americans, most particularly African-American men, are still more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms,” she said.
She pointed out that the U.S. has less than 5 percent of world’s population and almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population, but said the discrepancy is not because Americans are more violent or criminal.
“But it is because we have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance, and I personally hope that these tragedies give us the opportunity to come together as a nation to find our balance again,” she said.
All over the country, she said, there are “creative and effective” police departments that keep people safe without relying on excessive force or incarceration and that there exist officers who inspire trust and confidence, rather than fear and frustration.
“So let’s learn from the best examples. Let’s invest in what works, let’s make sure that federal funds to state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets or contribute to unnecessary force or arrests,” she said, drawing applause.
She said she supports President Obama’s announcement of a task force on policing, but that the most important thing that “each of us” can do is try even harder to see the world through “our neighbor’s eyes.”
“These tragedies did not happen in some faraway place. They didn’t happen to some other people,” she said. “These are our streets, our children, our fellow Americans, and our grief.”