Back Talk with Maxine Waters

By Meeks, Kenneth | Black Enterprise, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Back Talk with Maxine Waters


Meeks, Kenneth, Black Enterprise


In her eight terms in Congress, Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has championed many but none as meaningful as her latest campaign to curb the number of incarcerated African Americans, specifically The staggering number of imprisoned black men, says Waters, is a result of minimum sentencing laws. she's feverishly working to overturn the federal level.

Waters, 66, won her first election in 1976 to the California State Assembly, where she became an advocate for women's issues. She was elected to Congress in 1990, representing the 35th Congressional District, which would later become the epicenter of the 1992 riots when police officers involved in the Rodney King beating were acquitted.

BLACK ENTERPRISE recently caught up with Waters to find out how she's planning to challenge a Republican-controlled Congress.

Why are you taking on the mandatory sentencing laws? The incarceration rate of black men has reached a point that it is destroying the black community's ability to exercise a strong vote. And it's robbing the community of fathers, while eliminating the opportunity for young people to have a decent quality of life, a job, and, more importantly, a career.

You're suggesting that black men are unfairly being imprisoned. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws do not leave the judge with any discretion. They have to follow the strict mandatory minimum and sentence people who are involved in pretty minor crimes in a harsh way ... no matter if this was a first offense, no matter that they enrolled in college and they come from a good family, or that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Your campaign is a big undertaking. I'm also working on election reform. The debacle of Florida in 2000 that allowed George W. Bush to be selected instead of elected--there are issues that have never been resolved.

But Bush and members of the Republican Party were all re-elected in 2004? The Republican Party is philosophically so conservative. It's being controlled by right-wing evangelicals. They are bent on having total and complete control of the United States and they are clear on what they think is their responsibility to protect the riches and the resources of the privileged of this nation.

You've publicly criticized Bush for his 2006 budget. Very loudly because his budget is a slash-and-burn budget that makes deep cuts in our Medicare and Medicaid program; deep cuts in our Health & Human Services budget; deep cuts in HUD, which means we are eliminating all of the block grant money known as the Community Development Block Grant money that goes to the city. …

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