Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Booker Campaigns, and Commemorates

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Booker Campaigns, and Commemorates

Article excerpt

JERSEY CITY -- Cory Booker called for sweeping changes to America's criminal justice system on Wednesday, arguing that the current system fails to keep communities safe and wastes taxpayer money.

The country needs to focus more on rehabilitating offenders -- particularly people who commit non-violent drug crimes -- and less on just locking them up, he said.

Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark who is running for U.S. Senate, also called for a "national conversation about decriminalizing marijuana" and an end to private, for-profit prisons, among a number of other proposals.

"We need to have a system that reflects our values, that treats every citizen equally ... and brings communities together as opposed to dividing communities and dividing families," Booker said.

He spoke in Jersey City's Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an address in 1968, shortly before his assassination. Booker also noted that Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

"We've made a lot of progress towards achieving that dream," the mayor said. "But we can't ignore the truth. We still have work to do. Many of our laws, as currently written, take us further away from Martin Luther King's dream and disproportionately impact the poor and minorities."

The way America arrests and sentences people for non-violent drug crimes, and the nation's failure to help offenders reintegrate into society, leads to much of the inequality, he said.

In New Jersey, black people make up 14 percent of the population but 60 percent of the inmates, Booker said. Black people nationwide are 3.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession or use, "despite the fact that their usage rate is no different," he said.

"There is something deeply and fundamentally wrong with those numbers," Booker said.

Lonegan criticizes

Booker's opponent in the October special election for U.S. Senate, Steve Lonegan, said Booker was using his proposals to shift focus away from Newark's crime rate, which, Lonegan says, "points to a key failure of his time as Newark mayor. …

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