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On the issues: Criminal justice reform has Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump debating race, policing

By Eric DuVall
On the issues: Criminal justice reform has Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump debating race, policing
Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are at odds over how to reform the nation's criminal justice system. UPI file photos

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Hillary Clinton has given voice to grief and anger in many minority communities for allegations of racism, brutality and killings at the hands of police in major U.S. cities.

Donald Trump has presented himself as the "law and order" candidate, aiming to end the problems of crime and drug abuse with unalloyed support for law enforcement.

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One says Black Lives Matter; one says Blue Lives Matter.

Here is a look into how both candidates aim to reform the U.S. criminal justice system.

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For Clinton, focus on fairness in policing and sentencing

Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Hillary Clinton has a long history on the issue of criminal justice reform, dating to her husband former President Bill Clinton's crime bill in the 1990s -- and not all of it is remembered fondly by black communities.

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Hillary Clinton has repudiated several key portions of her husband's crime bill and backtracked from her language used to support it. Clinton referred to members of street gangs as "super predators" in 1996, a comment many said carried racial overtones -- and one Trump has seized on during the campaign. She has since said the comment was a mistake.

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Clinton now says her husband's stiffening of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders was a mistake that has led to an era of "mass incarceration" she hopes to end.

During her 2016 campaign, Clinton has enjoyed near unanimous support among black voters according to some opinion polls. She has spoken out on several occasions after videos and media reports of alleged police brutality that led to the death of black citizens.

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Clinton prominently featured several women from the organization, Mothers of the Movement, at the Democratic National Convention after she encouraged the women to band together to fight for racial justice. The founding members include mothers who have lost children in incidents of police and racially charged violence. The victims' names have become familiar: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, among others.

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While Clinton has embraced the message behind the Black Lives Matter movement, she has also been careful to note the vast majority of police officers should not be painted with the same brush as the relative few who have demonstrated brutal, sometimes lethal tactics when dealing with citizens of color. She has called for a national, uniform standard to train officers in the appropriate use of physical and lethal force. She has also called for all police officers to wear body cameras to increase accountability.

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"People are crying out for criminal justice reform. Families are being torn apart by excessive incarceration. Young people are being threatened and humiliated by racial profiling. Children are growing up in homes shattered by prison and poverty," Clinton said. "They're trying to tell us. We need to listen."

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Clinton has called for mandatory minimum prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders to be cut in half and a fundamental rethinking of how the courts handle drug offenses. She calls for judges to focus more on drug rehabilitation for defendants than incarceration.

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Clinton has not officially said she would work to overturn the death penalty, but has said she would "breathe a sigh of relief" if the states moved voluntarily to end the practice amid concerns cases prosecuted in the era before DNA evidence led to false convictions that would not have happened using today's science.

While her primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders advocated decriminalizing marijuana, Clinton has said she would remove it from the same federal categorization as opioids such as heroin, greatly reducing the number of federal cases arising from marijuana arrests and allowing more states to loosen their own criminal restrictions on cannabis without fear of reprisal from the Justice Department.

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For Trump, sticks to the mantra 'law and order'

Photo by Nell Redmond/UPI

Trump has relied on a steady stream of public statements that all revolve around a similar theme: The way to end crime and related social problems is redoubling the nation's commitment to the rule of law.

He has praised police as the first and most important force to address social problems plaguing inner cities such as drug abuse and gun violence.

While courting minority voters, he said "you have a right to walk down the streets of your city ... and not get shot."

To address the epidemic of gun violence in American cities, Trump has suggested increasing police presence in cities to root out criminals.

In a signal of how prominently Trump views the issue, it was his opening topic in his address to the Republican National Convention and the "law and order" theme took up nearly 10 minutes of the speech.

"Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration's rollback of criminal enforcement," Trump said.

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While the Obama administration has commuted the sentences of hundreds of individuals convicted of non-violent drug offenses, Trump sees criminals being let free.

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"Some of these people are bad dudes," he said at a rally in Florida in July. "These are people out walking the streets. Sleep tight, folks."

Speaking to supporters in Wisconsin days after violent protests broke out over the police shooting of an armed suspect in Milwaukee, Trump said protesters were waging a "war on police."

"Law and order must be restored for the sake of all, but most especially for the sake of those living in the affected communities," Trump said. "The main victims of these riots are law-abiding African-American citizens living in these neighborhoods."

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On the question of legalizing marijuana, Trump said the focus should shift from those who use the drug to those who sell it, but backed away from a call to jail pot offenders.

"I don't really think so and I think maybe the dealers have to be looked at very strongly but then you have states all of a sudden legalizing it, so it's sort of tough to say on one side of the border you go to jail and on the other side you can walk in a store and buy it," he said.

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On the question of the death penalty, Trump famously took out ads in New York City newspapers in 1989, calling for the state to reinstitute the death penalty after the case of the so-called Central Park Five -- a group of five youths, four of them black and one Hispanic, who were arrested and convicted of rape and attempted murder for an nearly fatal attack on a white woman jogging in Central Park.

The convictions were later vacated when the real attacker was arrested on an unrelated rape and confessed.

In the 2016 campaign, Trump has said he supports the death penalty in any time a police officer is killed in the line of duty.

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