On Saturday, March 12, there will be a CD8 candidate forum on public safety and criminal justice issues hosted by Safe Silver Spring at Takoma Park Middle School at 10:00 am. As part of that forum, candidates were asked to submit a statement of their views on these issues. So far, six (now seven) of the nine Democratic candidates have done so, and their answers are listed below. Candidate bios and issue statements by all the candidates can be found here.
Too often public safety and criminal justice debates fall into familiar and failed policies of the extreme left or the extreme right. Those on the far left bemoan racism in the criminal justice system and those on the far right complain about lawlessness and breakdown of culture in minority communities. By taking such polarized positions, there is no opportunity for consensus and true problem solving.
My view is that both sides have valid points. The vast majority, perhaps 75-80% of the issue, is due to institutional and systemic racism. Our police system, courts and incarceration are unquestionably biased against African Americans. This bias must be attacked systematically and comprehensively. I favor community policing, police body cameras and a top down review of bias in the federal court and prison system. At the same time, we need to address individual and community responsibility for crime in African-American neighborhoods.
Kumar Barve will continue to fight the NRA and supports enactment of a comprehensive sensible federal gun violence prevention law measure including expanded background checks, banning military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, tightening regulation of gun dealers and closing gun show loopholes. Barve also supports reducing our prison population by eliminating mandatory sentences, legalizing marijuana and moving resources away from jailing individuals and toward job training and communities.
Barve also wants to change the culture of our nation’s police forces away from a “reach for your gun” mentality to an increase in cultural and racial sensitivity. Barve wants law enforcement to reflect the diversity of their communities and put federal resources in police training to move our nation away from insidious racial profiling.
I became aware of the impact of public policy on our lives at an early age when I lost one of my best friends to an unnecessary act of gun violence. Reducing gun violence and criminal justice reform are two things that I’m very passionate about. We need universal background checks and to crack down on gun traffickers. We need to ensure that people who are on the terror watch list cannot purchase firearms and that domestic abusers aren’t able to purchase weapons and we need to ban military style assault weapons.
We must also reform the way police interact with communities they are charged to protect. The best law enforcement agencies are trained to de-escalate tense situations. Revisions to our use of force polices will make a tremendous difference in community policing. Alongside reforming policing standards, we need to eliminate the cocaine/crack sentencing disparity, and end mandatory minimum sentences. We need to invest in restorative justice and programs that reduce recidivism. By investing in education and job training programs, people who have paid their debt to society can get the help they need to rejoin their community. Another way to help reduce recidivism is by banning the box, allowing expungement of criminal records, and automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders. Finally, we need to end the for-profit prison system that incentivizes putting more people in jail and not helping them join the community when their sentence is complete.
My top public safety priority is to pass tougher gun safety laws to get guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves and others. My 8-point plan includes a national registry for all gun and ammunition sales, universal and effective background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases accompanied by a 7-day waiting period, banning assault weapons and high capacity magazine, and expanding the use of smart gun technology. We have made great progress here in Maryland, but we need nationwide gun regulations to be effective at getting deadly weapons off the streets.
In addition, there are real challenges facing our criminal justice system where poor and minority communities face discrimination. We should reduce or remove the use of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes, which break up families, makes it harder to reenter society, and get a job. We also need to rebuild the trust between our law enforcement officers and the communities they serve with stronger community policing. We need to expand the use of police body cameras so we can increase transparency for both officers and the public. And we must make treatment and rehabilitation of drug offenses a priority instead of incarceration. Along the same lines, once people reenter society, they should be treated fairly and that begins with the right to vote.
My priorities are big advances in gun safety, criminal sentencing reform, ex-felon reentry and rehabilitation, death penalty repeal, and positive school climate and school discipline reform. I will introduce and support bold measures to reduce the obscene gun violence engulfing America. We need to bring the essential features of the common-sense law we passed in Maryland into being at the federal level. Then–Senator and now Attorney General Brian Frosh and I wrote and steered to passage in 2013 one of the toughest comprehensive gun safety laws in the nation. In Congress, I will be a relentless advocate for universal background checks, which are a necessity to prevent gun-runners, murderers, and other criminals from obtaining firearms. We also need a Maryland-style fingerprinting system to eliminate the possibility of straw purchasers acquiring firearms for criminals. Federal law should prohibit people convicted of domestic abuse from possessing guns, which is precisely the gun safety legislation I am proposing in Annapolis this session. I also strongly favor abolition of the death penalty. Congress should proscribe life sentences without the possibility of parole in juvenile criminal cases, another effort we are working on in Annapolis. Ex-felons should be able to successfully reenter society after they satisfy their sentences. Working with conservative Republican Senator Michael Hough, I sponsored and shepherded to passage the Maryland Second Chance Act in 2015, which authorizes a person convicted of a nonviolent misdemeanor to get the conviction shielded from public view when he or she has completed his or her sentence and been clean for a period three years. Finally, Congress needs to roll back the War on Drugs, which has been a civil liberties and civil rights nightmare. I have introduced numerous bills that passed into law and reformed a bloated and unequal justice system, including reform of mandatory minimum sentences in drug offenses; a total rewrite of criminal asset seizure and forfeiture law to require the government to prove that seized property is tainted by crime (rather than forcing the citizen to prove it is innocent, which is constitutionally dubious anyway); and abolition of capital punishment in our state after four centuries.
I am committed to challenging the school-to-prison pipeline and promoting a positive school climate. I would support Representative Danny Davis (D-IL)’s Supportive School Climate Act of 2015. In far too many jurisdictions, students are pushed out of public schools and into the machinery of the country’s juvenile and criminal justice systems. Particularly troubling is that many of these children have learning disabilities and histories of poverty, abuse, and neglect, which means we are leading some of the country’s most vulnerable young people into some of the country’s most dangerous institutions. Further, this policy has a racially disparate impact. There is also little to no research to support the policy of frequent suspension and expulsion in response to non-violent and mundane forms of adolescent misbehavior. Civil rights enforcement agents should use the disparate impact standard of legal review as grounds to pursue remedies for the unjust and unnecessary removal of children from school. Critically, there are alternatives to disciplinary action for perceived misbehavior—schools should invest more in mediation, counseling, parent-teacher interaction, and extracurricular outlets for students, including sports and clubs. I wrote two books for young people, We the Students: Supreme Court Cases for and about America’s Students and Youth Justice in America (with Ahranjani and Ferguson), and founded the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project (with the families of Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan), which has sent hundreds of law students into public high schools and juvenile reformatories across America and educated thousands of high school students about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I believe all of us have a duty to engage with young people, including—but not limited to—our own children.
Addressing concerns over public safety in Silver Spring and across the country goes hand in hand with reforming our criminal justice system. There are a number of policy proposals that will move us forward in protecting and preserving our neighborhoods, and it’s critical to note that to do so, we need to look at educational and economic reforms to help solve these issues as well. Community policing and eliminating mandatory minimums alone won’t get the job done. Strong communities need good schools and good-paying jobs, especially for young people; infrastructure improvements and safe transportation options; effective public health and gun purchasing regulations; and law enforcement that reflects the communities they serve.
Resolving these issues will require us to be smart about how we invest our tax dollars, especially in a Republican-led Congress that is overly focused on making millionaire’s lives better, rather than yours or mine. I’m the only candidate in the race with the national security experience to find significant cost savings in our defense budget to pay for such programs, allowing us to invest more in infrastructure and transportation improvements, schools and extracurricular programs, affordable childcare programs, and affordable housing. And we should also be investing more in public safety programs that we know keep our communities safe and also provide the training and oversight to keep law enforcement honest. And finally, I know how to organize coalitions to win big fights. As an activist, I took on well-financed right-wing organizations that outspent us by tens of millions, and we won the battle over the Iran Deal. I’ll do the same thing when taking on the NRA in order to pass common sense gun legislation that we desperately need. We can and will win that fight.
We lose 191 precious lives everyday as a result of gun violence in the United States. Minorities disproportionately suffer as a result of gun violence. African Americans are twice as likely to die from gun violence than white Americans. Gun violence is also a serious public health issue. Over 60% of people who commit suicide use a gun. This rate is higher in states with higher gun ownership. This madness needs to end. We need to re-instate the federal assault weapons ban, close the gun show loophole, and require safe gun storage in homes. Sensible gun laws work in countries that use them. There’s no reason we shouldn’t implement them here. We need representatives who will stand up to the gun lobby. I’m running for Congress but I won’t be running from the NRA.
We also need to make comprehensive criminal justice reform a top priority in the next Congress. I support legislation to get non-violent drug offenders into treatment, rather than sending them to prison. We also need to change the incentives in our correctional system. We need legislation that rewards prison staff and parole officers for successfully keeping people under their supervision from re-offending. Finally, we need more legislation like President Obama’s executive order that bans the box for federal employment. We need to pass a law to ban the box nationwide. I’ve already banned the box in my business and convinced other companies to do the same. There’s no reason that every business in America can’t do the same.