The former secretary of state opened an address about women’s economic participation with an unusually direct and politically charged discussion of what she called a national failing.
“I want to say a few words about the pain and frustration that many Americans are feeling about our criminal justice system,” Clinton began.
“We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance,” to over-militarize policing and incarcerate too many people, and especially too many black men, she said during a speech in Boston to the Massachusetts Conference for Women.
Clinton welcomed the Justice Department inquiries into the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, saying their families and communities and the entire country “deserve a full and fair accounting as well as whatever substantive reforms are necessary to ensure equality, justice and respect for every citizen.”
A New York grand jury declined to indict a police officer in the death of Garner, an unarmed 43-year-old asthmatic who died after being put in a chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, as the officer was arresting Garner on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes.
Protests erupted in New York and other cities following that decision, which came on the heels of the decision by a Missouri grand jury not to indict white officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old whom Wilson may or may not have identified as a robbery suspect.
The Justice Department is looking into both cases, and could bring federal civil rights cases that address police practices. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that he still has “unanswered questions” about the deaths of Garner and Brown and wouldn’t rule out having House committees hold hearings.
Clinton has no official position from which to comment on the cases, and it is a tacit acknowledgment of her status as a likely candidate that she chose to address the controversy and offer her opinion.
“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 there are creative and effective police departments demonstrating that it is possible to keep us safe and reduce crime and violence without relying on unnecessary force or excessive incarceration.”
The former secretary of state is widely expected to announce early next year that she will make another run for the White House in 2016.
“Each of us has to grapple with some hard truths about race and justice in America,” Clinton said. “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.”
Clinton said that with about 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, and that a third of black American men “face the prospect of prison in their lifetimes.”
The Brown and Garner cases attracted protests and began a national discussion of race in large part because the officers in both cases were white. The Garner arrest and death were captured on video.
Clinton did not comment specifically on the circumstances of either of the Garner or Brown deaths, or note the race of the officers in those cases. She said there are “decent, honorable and brave” police officers doing a good job each day, and that they should be examples.
“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,” he said.