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Trump Secures The Higher Ground On Criminal Justice Issues in 2020 Campaign

Democratic candidates are being forced to disavow criminal justice policies they once championed

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Al Sharpton, center, with demonstrators during a silent march to end the "stop-and-frisk" program in New York. During the Bloomberg administration, civil rights groups went to court to end the NYPD's use of a tactic known as "stop and frisk," which involved detaining, questioning and sometimes searching people deemed suspicious by officers. VOA

Bloomberg is the latest Democratic candidate forced to reckon with a criminal justice policy record that critics view as too punitive to minorities.

As he prepared to announce his candidacy for president on Sunday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a page from an old political playbook.

Appearing in a black church in the city’s Brooklyn borough last week, the multi-billionaire media mogul apologized for long pushing a now-defunct policing tactic that had disproportionately targeted African American and Hispanic residents.

Known as “stop and frisk,” the controversial policy, imposed between 2003 and 2013, allowed New York City police to stop, temporarily detain, and search anyone suspected of carrying weapons and other contraband.

“I was wrong,” Bloomberg declared to the congregation. To those who had been wronged by the policy, he said, “I apologize.”

Criminal justice policy records

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been criticized for backing a 1994 crime bill that helped trigger a federal prison population explosion, while South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has faced questions over policing tactics in his hometown.

Others, including Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, have had to justify their law enforcement policies as a former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and a California prosecutor, respectively.

That Democrats are under scrutiny over criminal justice issues is unusual. Historically, Democratic presidential candidates ran on platforms of civil rights and criminal justice reform while Republicans campaigned as tough law-and-order candidates, according to criminal justice experts.

Donald Trump on criminal justice
President Donald Trump speaks at the 2019 Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act Celebration in the East Room of the White House in Washington. VOA

But as the 2020 campaign enters the crucial primary phase, Democratic candidates are being forced to disavow criminal justice policies they once championed, while Republican President Donald Trump – who hardly discussed criminal justice in 2016 – is touting himself as a leading reform candidate.

Trump says he can make that claim because he signed into law a sweeping piece of legislation known as the First Step Act last December. The legislation, which has released or reduced the prison sentences of thousands of inmates convicted of drug offenses, has earned Trump praise from many African Americans.

“It’s sort of a switch in what people thought was the standard left-right divide,” said Noah Weinrich of Heritage Action for America, a conservative grassroots organization.

So what happened?

The short answer is the country has changed. The 1994 Crime Bill now under attack from liberals and African Americans was enacted during the Clinton administration, near the height of a violent crime epidemic in the country when heavy-handed policies enjoyed broad public support.

But as crime has steadily declined over the past two decades to historically low levels, support for those measures has eroded and politicians on both sides of the aisle have increasingly embraced overhaul proposals.

Behind the 1994 Crime Bill

Biden helped craft the legislation when he was a U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and now is taking heat for the legislation’s more onerous side effects.

“Today, crime and murder rates are at historic lows and American communities are safer than they have been in generations,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, acting director of the Justice Program at New York University’s Brennan Center. “That’s significant because that allows the bipartisan conversations about how to best reduce the number of people who have been incarcerated.”

To be sure, criminal justice reform is not among the most pressing concerns for voters who care more about issues such as health care, immigration and jobs, according to polling.

Bill Clinton, Al Gore Demand Criminal Justice
President Bill Clinton signs the $30 billion crime bill during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. Looking on, from left: Vice President Al Gore; House Majority Whip David Bonior of Mich.; Stephen Sposato, whose wife was killed by a gunman invaded the San Francisco law firm where she worked; Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M. and Marc Klass, whose daughter Polly was kidnapped and killed. VOA

But public support for measures, such as eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing, has been on an upswing in recent years. That has prompted not only the large field of Democratic candidates but also the Republican president to campaign on criminal justice issues. Today, instead of incarceration, politicians increasingly talk about rehabilitation and redemption.

“Now we’re at a point in the country where we’re looking at our criminal justice system and saying maybe sentencing is what we need to think about and how do we best get our nonviolent criminals back into being productive members of society,” veteran Republican strategist David Avella said.

Last December, growing bipartisanship for criminal justice reform culminated in the enactment of the First Step Act.

Considered the most sweeping overhaul in a generation, the First Step Act allows for the early release of some nonviolent offenders, while providing inmates with in-prison job training to ease their reintegration into society and reduce recidivism rates. To date, more than 3,000 prisoners have been released and nearly 1,700 others have received sentence reductions under the program.

“Last year we brought the whole country together to achieve a truly momentous milestone,” Trump said last month at the historically black Benedict College in South Carolina, where he received an award for signing into law the First Step Act. “They said it couldn’t be done.”

Trump was an unlikely champion of the bill. When he first ran for president in 2016, he was seen as an obstacle to reform.

While his platform was notably silent on the issue, he consistently pushed for tough-on-crime policies over the decades, advocating lengthy sentences for violent offenders and effusing about New York City’s stop-and-frisk policies.

Then, after he was elected in 2016, Trump appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior White House adviser. Given a broad policy platform, Kushner zeroed in on an issue that he said was very close to his heart: prison reform.

Kushner’s father imprisoned

His father, real estate developer Charles Kushner, spent 14 months in a federal prison in the 2000s for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. Jared Kushner later called his father’s incarceration “obviously unjust.”

“When I had my personal experience, I wish that there was somebody who was in my office in the White House, who cared about this issue as much as I do, and if they’d been focused on it in making a difference, perhaps that would have made an impact on a lot of people who I came to meet and care about,” he told CNN’s Van Jones, a prominent African American advocate of the First Step Act, last year.

Kusner Brafman on Criminal Justice
Charles Kushner, left, walks to the U.S. District Courthouse with his lawyers Benjamin Brafman, right, and Alfred C. DeCotiis, center, in Newark, N.J. Kushner is expected to plead guilty to charges stemming from a witness tampering scheme. VOA

Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy organization that lobbied for the legislation, said Kushner played an indispensable role in championing the bill and that Trump deserves credit for signing it into law.

“No one would have thought four years ago or three years ago that President Trump would have signed a law like that,” Ring said. “Everyone would have been skeptical that he would have supported any reform. So because he did it, I see no reason not to celebrate that.”

But Democratic candidates were in no mood to celebrate Trump’s action. They have denounced other Trump administration policy decisions that they say have set back years of progress on criminal justice. These include the Justice Department’s recent decision to resume federal executions.

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“I find it hypocritical of him to tout whatever advances have been made in the First Step Act given his history,” Democratic candidate Harris said at the Bipartisan Justice Center event after Trump received the award.

Harris, who had initially opposed the First Step Act for not going far enough to address criminal justice reform before voting for it, has faced criticism for not embracing criminal justice reform when she was San Francisco’s top prosecutor and later California’s attorney general. (VOA)

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40.7 Million American Workers Seek Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment has increased worldwide as bussinesses remain shut due to COVID-19 pandemic

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People who lost their jobs are reflected in the door of an Arkansas Workforce Center as they wait in line to file for unemployment following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Fort Smith, Arkansas. VOA
By Ken Bredemeier

 

Applications for unemployment compensation eased again in the U.S. last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as some employers started to reopen businesses after the coronavirus pandemic forced their closure.

Even so, another 2.1 million more workers sought cash benefits after being laid off as other businesses curtailed their operations in the face of the continuing threat from the virus and less demand for their products.

In all, since mid-March, 40.7 million workers have now sought unemployment compensation, nearly a quarter of the U.S. labor force of more than 164 million.

However, the current actual number of jobless workers is unknown since some who sought unemployment benefits in previous weeks have now been called back to work by their employers. All 50 state governors have begun to ease restrictions on businesses opening in a patch-work array of directives that varies widely throughout the country.

The U.S. death toll from the virus topped 100,000 on Wednesday and health experts predict tens of thousands more will die in the coming months. But President Donald Trump, facing a November re-election contest against former Vice President Joe Biden, is predicting the country will have a robust economic recovery.

“States should open up ASAP,” Trump said on Twitter this week as the stock indexes advanced sharply. “The Transition to Greatness has started, ahead of schedule. There will be ups and downs, but next year will be one of the best ever!”

But the coronavirus has had a major effect on U.S. commerce, with 27 companies already filing for bankruptcy protection in May and some companies announcing they were closing permanently.

The official April unemployment rate was 14.7%, with Trump economic advisers acknowledging that the May figure, when it is announced in early June, is likely to be 20% or more. They say the rate could remain in double digits on Election Day Nov. 3 and could still be about 10% at the end of 2021.

Unemployment
White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow talks to reporters. VOA

The government at first said the national economy dropped 4.8% in the first quarter, but that was before the full impact of the pandemic became apparent. It raised the figure to 5% on Thursday and economists expect a further decline in the April-to-June quarter.

Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, told the Washington Post recently that there are some “small glimmers of hope” in the economy. But he also acknowledged the ongoing difficulties the coronavirus pandemic poses to the world’s largest economy.

“Look, it’s really hard to model a virus, a pandemic, the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years,” Kudlow said. “The numbers coming in are not good. In fact, they are downright bad in most cases. But we are seeing some glimmers, perhaps … there’s a lot of heartbreak here. There’s a lot of hardship here. There’s a lot of anxiety here. It’s a very difficult situation.”

Numerous states still require social distancing of at least two meters between people in stores and some major retail outlets are requiring their employees and customers to wear face masks. Some governors are limiting restaurants to half capacity.

But in other states, the restrictions have been significantly lifted and crowds have quickly emerged to resume life, shopping or enjoying a day at Atlantic and Pacific beaches, often ignoring the admonitions of health experts to maintain a safe distance from others or to wear a face mask.

Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has warned that the American economy could endure a multi-year recession if more aid is not authorized for workers. He said that 40% of American households earning less than $40,000 a year lost jobs in March.

USs-State-of-Reopening
In a few states, the restrictions have been significantly lifted. VOA

But Trump and Republican lawmakers are balking at approving more government assistance until it can be determined how much effect the already-approved funding is helping the economy.

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U.S. workers filing for jobless benefits normally are paid slightly less than half their normal salaries. But these payments are currently being augmented during the pandemic with $600-a-week supplements from the federal government for four months, through July.

The peak of the unemployment benefit claims likely came in late March with 6.9 million workers filing for the jobless compensation.

The weekly pace of claims has diminished each of the last 10 weeks since then, but the millions of claims have still been unparalleled over decades of U.S. economic history, reaching back to the Great Depression in the 1930s. The number of claims has far exceeded those made during the Great Recession in 2008-2009. (VOA)

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ISKCON Devotees Recall When Donald Trump Helped Them Conduct Rath Yatra

Recalling an incident from 1976 Rath Yatra, when current US President helped ISKCON devotees

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trump-ISKCON
Current US President once helped ISKCON devotees back in 1976. Pixabay

By Muskan Bhatnagar

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, abbreviated as ISKCON is a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu religious organisation which was founded 53 years ago, in 1966.

At present, ISKCON consists of 850 temples, ecovillages and centres worldwide, out of which India comprises of over 150 temples.

The motto of ISKCON is ‘Krsnas Tu Bhagavan Svayam‘ which headquarters in Sri Sri Radha Madhav Panchatattva Temple (ISKCON Mayapur), Mayapur, West Bengal, India.

Recalling an incident from 1976, the organisation was planning to conduct the first massive Rath Yatra in New York City with the permission to use 5th Avenue. The massive wooden carts were to be made within the reach of the starting point of the parade and hence a huge empty site was required.

ISKCON
The ISKCON devotees were not able to find a large empty site for Rath Yatra preparations. Pixabay

Everyone who was approached refused due to understandable insurance risksand whatnot.

When almost all devotees had lost hope, they were informed that Donald Trump had recently purchased the old railway yard and suggested to approach him regarding the issue.

The ISKCON devotees were not able to find a large empty site for Rath Yatra preparations. Pixabay

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The old railway yard was a perfect location for the organisation but why would Trump be any different from the dozens of people they had approached previously?

The devotees went to his office with a big basket of Maha Prasadam and a presentation package. Trump’s Secretary received the devotees and their package and warned them saying “He never agrees to this kind of thing. You can ask but he is going to say “No”.

The devotees received a call three days later from the same secretary. “I don’t know what happened but he read your letter, took a bit of food you left, and immediately said “sure, why not?”, said the secretary, adding “come on down and get his signed letter of permission.”

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Indian-American Businessman Urges Trump to Reopen with “common sense precautions”

Danny Gaekwad, Indian-American businessman has urged Trump's administration to reopen the country's economy with "common sense precautions"

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Lockdown
Reopen the country's economy with "common sense precautions", suggests Indian-American businessman. Pixabay

A prominent Indian-American businessman has urged US President Donald Trump administration to reopen the country’s economy with “common sense precautions”, highlighting the struggles America’s hoteliers were facing during the COVID-19 lockdown, the media reported.

Speaking at a roundtable of hospitality and tourism industry, hosted by Vice President Mike Pence in Orlando on Wednesday, Danny Gaekwad, Chairman of OSEM Hospitality Management, said such a move will “help our industry and our state get our economy moving again”, the American Bazaar reported on Thursday. Gaekwad was speaking as a representative of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA).

Besides Pence, the event was attended by Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and several prominent business leaders from the state. Gaekwad and other industry leaders proposed a number of steps and a phased reopening of the economy. “This pandemic hit the hotel industry particularly hard, and owners and employees alike continue to struggle,” said Gaekwad, also a prominent Republican donor, told Pence.

“Reopening our businesses with common sense precautions that prioritize the health and wellbeing of employees and guests will help our industry and our state get our economy moving again.” Gaekwad, a resident of Ocala, in central Florida, drew Pence’s attention on the liquidity crisis members of AAHOA, who own nearly one in every two hotels in the country, were facing.

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Industry leaders proposed a number of steps and a phased reopening of the economy to Trump administration. Pixabay

“If there is no guest, there is no dollar. If there is no dollar, don’t even think about liquidity. Do we have liquidity? Absolutely not,” the American Bazaar quoted the businessman as saying.

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“As an immigrant, my whole family works in a business because it does bother us. I represent here more than 20,000 (AAOHA) members. We all came with an American Dream. I thought I saw 9/11, I thought I saw the greatest recession. I have never seen this and I was never prepared for this.” (IANS)