In 1994, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) voted for a crime bill that created America’s culture of mass incarceration. On popular New York City radio show The Breakfast Club, Bernie Sanders addressed that vote and other issues.
“If I hadn’t voted for it, you’d be saying to me how come you voted against the Violence Against Women Act, how come you voted against the effort to pass some gun safety legislation,” Sanders explained. “You got a bill that has some bad stuff in it, has some good stuff, you make your choice.”
He did, however, mention that he warned about the dangers of mass incarceration in 1994 and if elected, his criminal justice reform priorities “absolutely” would be righting the wrong of the vote that led to the incarceration epidemic. Those reforms include ending private prisons and legalization of marijuana.
In response to a questiom from Breakfast Club host Charlemagne Tha God, Sanders also addressed his answer on reparations that has been classified as evasive. He’s even been characterized as opposing reparations. He did say he opposes cash payouts to black Americans, but he does support broader policies to address the history of disadvantage that comes with the legacy of slavery.
Those include government investments in black-owned businesses and black banks, black home ownership, and dealing with racism and discrimination in the financial services industry. But he framed cash payouts as arbitrary, omitting the legacy of genocide against Native Americans.
Sanders drew attention to disparity, not just between the rich and poor but between black and white. Infant (and maternal) mortality is higher for people of color, the quality of education is higher for whites, and white families make more than black families overall. And while the unemployment rate is low, that isn’t true for black youth.
Sanders also wants to help black entrepreneurs get in on the legal marijuana business, where they’re facing significant roadblocks. He stopped short of guaranteeing quotas for black owners of marijuana businesses, however.
Of course, central to the conversation is Sanders’ whiteness in a historically diverse field. Sanders talked about his history of civil rights from the March on Washington to supporting Jesse Jackson’s presidential bid to his much more diverse campaign staff, including a DACA “Dreamer” that the Washington Examiner called an “illegal immigrant.”
Sanders dismissed the Examiner headline.
“Is that supposed to be a criticism of me?” He told the Breakfast Club.
But when it comes to the history of 44 out of 45 presidents being white men, if America really needs another one, Sanders was concise.
“I think you need this one.”
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.