Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton will unveil new specifics of her criminal justice platform in an Atlanta speech Friday by calling for legislation to ban racial profiling by law enforcement, and for eliminating the remaining distinction between crack and powder cocaine in drug sentencing.
The proposals are among the most sought after by criminal justice and civil rights activists — who have long decried both the crack and powder cocaine distinction and racial profiling in policing. They come as a renewed national focus on race, justice and policing continues to influence the ongoing presidential contest, especially in the Democratic primary.
While both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley have unveiled comprehensive racial and criminal justice plans, the details to come Friday are among the first specifics of Clinton's criminal justice platform.
“These proposals are only the first components of an extensive agenda to be rolled out in the coming days,” a Clinton aide said in an e-mailed statement. “That agenda will focus on three key areas: policing, incarceration, and reentry into society.”
The crack and powder cocaine distinction stems from a 1986 law that declared that a person convicted of crack cocaine possession got the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the same amount of powder cocaine. Civil rights groups have long decried the law, arguing that treating crack and powder cocaine differently disproportionately and unfairly impacts African Americans since 80 percent of those convicted of crack cocaine possession are black. The Fair Sentencing Act passed in 2010 narrowed the 1986 law's sentencing ratio to 18:1.
Clinton will say Friday that as president she would support legislation eliminating any distinction between the two forms of the drug, meaning that those sentenced for crimes involving crack cocaine would receive the same sentences as those sentenced for crimes with powder cocaine.
In her speech, Clinton also plans to call for the passage of legislation that would end racial profiling by law enforcement, which has been on the legislative wish-list of some congressional Democrats for more than a decade. Clinton, who while in the Senate twice co-sponsored a proposed End Racial Profiling Act, will say that as president she will again support legislation to prohibit federal, state and local law enforcement officials from relying on a race to determine whether to investigate people during routine encounters, such as traffic stops.
Clinton has previously called for an end of the era of "mass incarceration" and has said that she supports putting body cameras on all police officers.
"In this campaign, Hillary Clinton has said we must recognize some hard truths about race and justice in America in order to reform our criminal justice system," the statement said.
The policy proposals come as 2016 candidates continue to grapple how to handle the growing national momentum for criminal justice reform and how to interact with the Black Lives Matter protest movement, a response to the deaths of unarmed black men and women including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Sandra Bland.
All three Democratic candidates have each held meetings with Black Lives Matter-affiliated activists and have vowed during stump speeches and debate performances to prioritize criminal justice issues if elected.
O'Malley released a sweeping criminal justice plan in late July that, among other things, calls for the restoration of felon voting rights, the elimination of the crack and powder cocaine distinction, and policing reforms such as requiring better data reporting and using special prosecutors in use-of-force cases.
Sanders has unveiled a detailed racial justice platform, which calls for federal funding for police body cameras, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and abolishing civil asset forfeiture programs. Earlier this week, he told an audience of college students that he would favor removing marijuana from the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs.
“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use," Sanders said. "That’s wrong. That has got to change."