November 6, 2014 - Tuscaloosa, AL:  Portrait of Central High offensive lineman Lester Cotton.  He's a top recruit for the University of Alabama.

credit:  Marcus Smith

Hillary, before I give myself to you I need to know if you’ll still love me tomorrow. When evaluating politicians I first look for core convictions. That is, what is it that you’re absolutely committed to, no matter what? It matters. Things change and fashions change. Since criminal justice reform is en vouge today I’m sure you may cater to this issue I care so much about. However, what if it goes out of style tomorrow, as it did during the 90’s? Will you still be on my side? Please understand, Ms. Clinton, that the discussion of criminal justice reform is a bare minimum. We’ve not even gotten to the larger question of whether you’ll reject investment in punishment for investment in progress: jobs, entrepreneurship and education. But at the bare minimum I need for you to answer this simple question. I need to know, Secretary Clinton, that if criminal justice reform is out of style in a few years, where will you be?

You were a Barry Goldwater supporter during the age of Civil Rights (Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act) but years later as a summer law clerk you worked to defend Huey Newton. You backed your husband full throttle on “get tough” crime policies when they were fashionable as Arkansas Governor and later President; but as of late you’ve come out as a proponent of criminal justice reform. The “Black Lives Matter” movement has undoubtedly made it politically fashionable to do so but what if fashions change halfway during your term as President? I need to know if your current convictions will hold. Some years after working to defend Huey Newton, you helped save a mentally-impaired black man from the death penalty who’d been sentenced by an all-white jury. But since your husband was running for Attorney General you left your name off the brief filed on the man’s behalf. I guess leaving your name on it would have been politically unfashionable.

Your husband was labeled “soft on crime” during his first term as Arkansas Governor after commuting the sentences of 76 inmates; subsequently he lost his re-election bid. So he got tough. After Bill saw Michael Dukakis lose his presidential bid because of the crime issue, he was even more determined. The infamous crime bill followed, about which you said, “It’s a very well-thought-out crime bill that is both smart and tough. And I think Americans are gonna say, why these political games? And we will eventually get a good crime bill like the President has proposed.” That crime bill led to an increase of 673,000 inmates during Bill’s two terms, more than 235,000 more than Reagan managed in two terms. But it was politically fashionable.

As a Senator you were largely quiet on criminal justice issues but as you began your 2008 run for President, you co-sponsored legislation to reduce disparities on crack and powder cocaine. After all, Democrats need at least 90% of the black vote to win the presidency and that disparity had become less fashionable than it was when the crime bill was passed in the 90’s. When you spoke to a Howard University crowd in 2007 you argued for a move away from harsh drug penalties. However, months later you attacked then-Senator Obama for being “soft on crime” because he opposed mandatory minimums. Now in your current run for the White House, the mood of the nation and the Democratic coalition has changed–you have now come out against mandatory minimums. I’m concerned, however, that fashions may change again and I need to know if you will.

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