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Hillary Clinton: Baltimore Unrest Shows Need for Change

Hillary Rodham Clinton greets members of the audience following her speech at the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum, April 29, 2015, in New York.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke out on the unrest in Baltimore Wednesday in a speech in New York. She is the first presidential candidate to publicly address the situation in detail, though some of the Republican presidential contenders have touched on the issue, deploring street violence and urging calm.

Clinton’s remarks came in a speech at Columbia University. “What we have seen in Baltimore should, indeed I think does, tear at our soul. My heart breaks for these young men and their families. We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America," she said.

Clinton said the U.S. needs to confront a number of issues in the wake of the unrest in Baltimore following the death of a young black man, Freddie Gray, in police custody. The Gray case is the latest in a series of deadly encounters between young black men and police around the country over the past several months.

Clinton said it was time to end what she called “the era of mass incarceration” of young, low-level criminal offenders, as well as the lack of funding for drug and mental health programs.

But Clinton also said those behind the recent violence in Baltimore should be held accountable. “So the violence has to stop," she said. "But more broadly let’s remember that everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone in every community is respected by the law.”

Clinton is the only announced Democratic candidate for the November 2016 election, although that likely will change on Thursday, when Vermont's Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who usually votes with the chamber's minority Democrats, is scheduled to join the race.

Obama’s View

To some extent, Clinton’s remarks echoed those of President Barack Obama, who spoke at length about the violence in Baltimore in a White House appearance on Tuesday. Obama sought to strike a balance between shining a spotlight on the some of the deep-seated problems behind the violence in Baltimore, and on those who were intent on taking advantage of the situation. “That is not a protest. That is not a statement. It is people - a handful of people - taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes. And they need to be treated as criminals," said President Obama.

The president noted a number of recent incidents involving young black men and police across the country that resulted in the use of deadly force, and said these raise troubling questions in many communities. “Moms and dads across the country might start saying this is a crisis," he told his audience at the White House, which included news media. "What I would say is, this has been a slow rolling crisis and this has been going on for a long time.”

Republican Contenders Speak Out

Republican presidential contenders have also weighed in. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush said the violence in Baltimore emphasized the need for a “commitment to the rule of law and law enforcement.”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tweeted that he is praying “for the restoration of peace” in Baltimore.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, one of three announced Republican candidates, said the Freddie Gray case should be “thoroughly and impartially investigated.” He condemned those behind the violence and looting in Baltimore.

One Republican who has become prominent in connection with the unrest is Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who is newly elected and is not running for president. Baltimore was reported calmer Tuesday night after police enforced a curfew. Hogan said: “Our primary mission again is to maintain order and to begin to repair the damage inflicted by the violence. Acts of violence and destruction of property cannot and will not be tolerated.”

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.