Presidential Candidates Weigh In on Baltimore and Freddie Gray

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Events in Baltimore inspired Hillary Clinton's first big policy speech.
Events in Baltimore inspired Hillary Clinton’s first big policy speech.

It’s practically mandatory that 2016 presidential hopefuls make statements on Baltimore’s Freddie Gray protests. Here’s what several have said so far.

The Republicans:

Libertarianish Tea-Party type Rand Paul is a proponent of criminal justice reform, and that may have been what he was thinking of when he made a “missing fathers” remark about the unrest in Baltimore on Laura Ingraham’s radio show.

“There are so many things we can talk about,” Paul said. “It’s something we talk about not in the immediate aftermath but over time: The breakdown of family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society. This isn’t just a racial thing; it goes across racial boundaries.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who also identifies with the Tea Party Movement, called for Gray’s death to be “thoroughly and impartially investigated.” At the same time, he “hope[s] we all remember that our nation’s law enforcement consists of thousands of heroic officers who deeply respect the dignity of each person they serve to protect.

Cruz makes no mention of President Obama in his official statement, but elsewhere he seemed to blame him in general terms for the unrest, saying the president “made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions, that have divided us rather than bringing us tougher.”

Potential candidate Jeb Bush hasn’t said much as much as some. He called for a commitment to “the rule of law and to law enforcement” and urged for a quick investigation into Gray’s death.

Johns Hopkins’s own Ben Carson had this to say:

“It is vital to remember that the best way to create positive change is through peaceful conversation and policy ideas that display a commitment to resolution. My thoughts and prayers are extended to those who are experiencing fear and loss during this troubling time, including the families of Mr Gray and first responders/officers. I urge parents, grandparents and guardians to please take control of your children and do not allow them to be exposed to the dangers of uncontrolled agitators on the streets.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the leading Republican candidate, hasn’t said a word on Baltimore.

The Democrats:

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has turned Baltimore and what it represents into the basis of “her first substantive policy address.” Speaking at Columbia University on Wednesday, Clinton called for an “end [to] the era of mass incarceration.”

“There is something profoundly wrong when African-American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts,” she said.

According to the New York Times, “[m]any criminal justice experts” see this as a “repudiation” of policies associated with the Bill Clinton administration. But perhaps more important, it seizes on a huge political weakness of rival Martin O’Malley, who as mayor of Baltimore made his mark with a technocratic, “tough-on-crime” approach to public safety. If Baltimore’s strife can be pinned partly on “missing fathers” as Clinton (and Paul) would have it, then O’Malley’s got to shoulder some of the blame.

For his part, O’Malley tweeted his reaction Monday:

On Tuesday, he flew to Baltimore, and made an appearance in West Baltimore. He offered a hopeful message: “The longer arc of Baltimore, the longer arc of our history, is black and white people coming together to make a better life for themselves.”

He also faced the obvious question — is any of this his responsibility? “Every mayor does their very best to strike the right balance, to save as many lives as we possibly can,” O’Malley said. “What we had zero tolerance for was police misconduct. We worked at it every day.”

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