April 29, 2015

“We need to restore balance to our criminal-justice system,” said the recently declared presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton in keynote remarks at the 18th annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum, held at Low Library on April 29.

The speech by the former secretary of state was timely: Clinton began by addressing recent events in Baltimore and across the nation involving the deaths of African American men including Freddie Gray and Michael Brown. She went on to discuss broader issues of race, inequality, and the need to reform the country’s criminal-justice system.

“It’s time to change our approach. It’s time to end the era of mass incarceration,” Clinton said.

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Clinton argued that patterns of arrest and jailing of African American men are unmistakable and undeniable, noting that it is time for our country to face the facts of how race and justice are examined and applied.

Clinton also called for the violence in Baltimore to stop, saying that everyone benefits when there is respect for the law and when the law also respects citizens. It is imperative to begin rebuilding trust in communities across the nation now, she added, arguing that police departments across the U.S. should employ body cameras to improve transparency and accountability.

“It’s a common-sense step,” Clinton said.

Clinton said it was time for the United States to reevaluate its approach to punishment of low-level crimes; which has resulted in prison time fora significant number of Americans.

In order for the United States to be honest about inequality, Clinton said, it is essential that it provide better educational opportunities for young people. The conversation around criminal justice also must be broadened to include the topic of mental health, she added.

“Every life matters,” she said.

In his introduction, President Lee C. Bollinger emphasized that Clinton’s appearance was not a campaign stop—but went on to joke that “Columbia will always have a place for the Hillary Rodham Clinton library.”

Dean Merit E. Janow welcomed Clinton and warmly introduced Mayor David N. Dinkins, who received a standing ovation from the audience.

Dinkins, a professor at Columbia SIPA who served as mayor of New York City from 1990 to 1993, has known Clinton for many years. He made a similarly light-hearted comment: “I do expect to be at the inauguration.”

Clinton’s keynote speech represented her second such appearance at the David N. Dinkins Forum. She previously spoke in 2001, when she was in her first year as a U.S. senator representing New York.

Following Clinton’s remarks, the event continued with a discussion on “The Future of a National Urban Policy.”

Professor Ester R. Fuchs of SIPA moderated a panel that comprising Sheldon H. Danziger, president of the Russell Sage Foundation; Professor Jacob S. Hacker of Yale University; Dean Jeanette Takamura of Columbia University School of Social Work; and Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.

Watch complete remarks