As the author or co-sponsor of more than two dozen criminal justice reform bills, I have a long history of working with Democrats to correct injustice in our system, especially as it pertains to those accused of non-violent crimes such as drug possession.
The right to due process, enshrined in the Constitution, includes the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one’s peers. Those denied bail or unable to afford it can often be incarcerated for months awaiting trial, during which time they often lose their jobs, face eviction, and have their lives spiral downward -- all before ever being convicted of a crime.
In many of my speeches, I shared the heartbreaking story of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old Black teenager who was accused of stealing a backpack and was incarcerated on Rikers Island for three years without trial. Two of those years were in solitary confinement. Kalief was abused by guards and gangs and attempted suicide in prison.
Finally, after Kalief was released, the trauma this teenager had experienced was too much for him to bear, and he ultimately took his own life.
The injustice and tragedy of this case brought prominent progressives such as Kamala Harris together with civil libertarians like myself to call for reform, to insist that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a speedy trial apply to everyone, regardless of the color of your skin or your socioeconomic status.
I would add today that the Sixth Amendment should apply regardless of your political persuasion. It is disappointing that progressives today will not apply the same equal justice under the law to the people accused of entering the U.S. Capitol illegally on Jan. 6, 2021.
During the months of arson, murder and other violence in 2020, Kamala Harris tweeted her support for the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which bailed out a woman charged with murder for stabbing her friend to death as well as a twice-convicted rapist charged with kidnapping and sexual assault. The protests of 2020 resulted in at least 25 deaths, thousands of injured police, and nearly $2 billion in damage to our cities.
Yet we have heard nothing from Vice President Harris on the Jan. 6 detainees held for nearly a year without trial, some of whom have not been charged with any acts of violence against persons. Indeed, the sentences for the charges many face would likely fall short of the months they have already been jailed without conviction of a crime. Many have been held for long periods in solitary confinement.
I worked with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to legislatively end solitary confinement for juveniles. I applauded President Obama when he stepped in to stop this cruelty. It disturbs me that the outrage from the left seems to be selective. Where is the ACLU when it comes to the prolonged and inhumane solitary detentions of people accused of crimes on Jan. 6, especially for those who are accused of no violence?
A federal judge stepped in to confirm the abusive jail conditions and yet those on the left fail to lift a finger or pen a word to condemn this injustice. Their hypocrisy indicates that either they hate these people so much that they now refuse to acknowledge the injustice of prolonged incarceration without trial, or they simply don’t care because these citizens are supporters of Donald Trump. Many on the right also sit silently in fear of being accused of supporting violence.
I condemned all violent acts on Jan. 6 and continue to do so. But that does not mean we should destroy the lives of non-violent protesters by deliberately conflating them with the acts of others, denying them bail, and incarcerating them for nearly a year with no trial. That is not justice. Our laws demand that even those accused of the most horrific crimes of mass murder are guaranteed due process. To abandon those principles for political purposes is to abandon the very bedrock of American jurisprudence.
A true bipartisan criminal justice reform movement must defend the civil liberties of all Americans, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic level, and political persuasion.
You can read the full Op-Ed HERE.