“Right now, we have more African-Americans under criminal supervision than all of the slaves in 1850,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.
Booker was complaining about what he called “felony disenfranchisement.”
“[W]hat we’ve also seen in this country since the 1970s is a great restriction of voting rights in our country. What I mean specifically by that is in 1976, about 1.7 million Americans were denied their voting rights because of previous convictions. They had felony disenfranchisement.
“Well, since the 1970s, we had this explosion of this drug war, incredible explosion of mass incarceration in this country, disproportionately affecting poor people and minorities. And now we’ve come to a point in America in 2010, we had 5.85 million Americans who have lost their voting rights because of previous convictions.
“They paid their debt to society, many of them non-violent criminals. If that was a state, it would be the 20th biggest state in our nation.”
Booker also said there’s “no difference” between blacks and whites when it comes to using illegal drugs in this country:
“In fact, there’s no difference in dealing drugs,” Booker said. “Some studies show that young whites have more of a — a chance of being drug dealers, but yet we have an incarceration rate for drugs — for drug use and for drug selling — that is disproportionately seen in — in communities of color.
“And the result of that has created these awful realities in America, where right now, we have more African-Americans under criminal supervision than all of the slaves in 1850, where we have a nation that has states like mine (New Jersey), that has 14, 15-percent African-Americans, but the prison population is over 60 percent black.
“And so when you know that it is no difference, but if you’re an African-American, you’re almost four times more likely to be caught for using marijuana than if you were white, when you see a criminal justice system that is not what the Supreme Court has etched in its wall, equal justice under the law, please understand that there is going to be an understandable reaction to that in our country.
“And the criminal justice system is so overbroad right now, that we, as a nation, are spending a quarter of a trillion dollars a year. We have — we’re 4 percent of the — of the globe’s population, 4 to 5 percent, but we have one out of every four imprisoned people here in this country.
“And so, yes, there’s a reason to be upset. And there’s a reason to act out,” Booker said — a reference to “Black Lives Matter” protesters who disrupted a rally for Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in Washington State on Saturday.
Sanders had planned to discuss criminal justice reform and income inequality at the outdoor rally, but he was pushed aside by the black activists.
President Obama last month commuted the prison sentences of 46 people, may of them cocaine or crack dealers, as part of his effort to get “non-violent,” “low-level” drug offenders out of prison.
“If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid,” Obama told the NAACP.
The president, as part of his effort to “reform” the criminal justice system, said he favors drug court and treatment programs over felony convictions and prison terms for nonviolent drug dealers.
Obama also said people who have served their time and re-entered socialy “should be able to vote.”
Booker said he favors legislation, rather than a constitutional amendment, to address “all these voter restrictions,” including felony disenfranchisement and voter ID laws.
“There is no fraud at the voting booth,” he insisted. “You’re more likely to get struck by lightning in Texas than to find any kind of voter fraud.”