Democratic candidates debate: Addressing country's racism

ABC News’ Linsey Davis asks the 2020 Democratic candidates how they plan to address the racial divide.
14:23 | 09/13/19

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Transcript for Democratic candidates debate: Addressing country's racism
Since we're here at an age we see you I'd like to start with young black voters several recent polls indicate they're number one concern. Is racism. This campus this day and this nation are still raw from that racially motivated attack on my team doesn't know paso. Now we know that the racial divide started long before president trump and President Obama but each of you on this stage has says that president trump has made that combined worse. Congressman over or coming to you first. Why are you the most qualified candidate to address this divide. You are called this out in no uncertain terms on August 3 and every day since then and I was talking about it. Long before then as well racism in America is endemic it is foundational. We can mark the creation this country not at the fourth of July 1776. But August when he at 1619. When the first kidnapped after. Brought to this country against his will and in bondage and has a slave. Built to greatness and the success. And the wealth but neither he nor his descendants would ever be able to fully participate in and enjoy. We have to be able to answer this challenge and it is found in our education system where in Texas. If five year old child in kindergarten is five times as likely. To be disciplined or suspended or expelled. Based on the color of their skin in our health care system. Where there is a maternal mortality crisis three times as deadly. For women of color or the fact that there's ten times a wealth in white America than there is in Black America on the follow Sheila Jackson Lee's lead and signed into law a reparations bill. They'll allow us to address this. We have a white supremacist in the White House and he poses a mortal threat to people of color all across this country. I want to commend Bethel for how well he has spoken to the the passion and the frustration in the sadness after what happened in his hometown about also these are great job with that book. A few weeks ago. A shooter drove ten miles inspired by the spread ten. Hours inspired by this president. To kill people who look like me. And people who look like my family. White supremacy is a growing threat to this country and we have to rooted out. I'm proud that I put forward a plan to disarm hate I'm also proud that I was the first to put forty police reform plan. Because we're not gonna have any more look one McDonald's or Eric gardeners for Michael Brown. Walter Scott for Sandra bland here from the Houston area we do root out racism and I believe that we can do that because that doesn't represent the vast majority of Americans who do have a good heart they also need a leader to match that and I will be a president. That matches a. Senator Bob. Yeah I said well the real question isn't who is or isn't a racist. It's who's going to do something about it senator what do you plan to do about it well first and foremost I wanna hit that point because. We know Donald Trump's a racist but there is no red badge of courage for calling him that. Racism exists. The question isn't Wheaton who isn't a racist its who is and isn't doing something about racism. And this is not just an issue that started yesterday it's not just an issue that we hear a president that can't contempt white supremacy. We have systemic racism that is you roading our nation. From healthcare to the criminal justice system and it's nice to go all the way back to slavery but dear god we have a criminal justice system there's so. Racially biased we get more African Americans under criminal supervision today for all the slaves in the 1858. After calm at this issue attacking systemic racism having the courage to call it out and having a plan to do something about. If I am president of United States we will create an office. In the White House to deal with the problem off white supremacy and hate crimes. And we will make she wore. It's systemic racism is dealt with in substantive plans for criminal justice reform to the disparities in health care to even want that we don't talk about an off. Which is the racism that we see in environmental injustice in communities of color all around the spot. Around race in your own community you'll also said that anyone who votes to reelect president trump is at best. Looking the other way on racism. Does that sort of talk alienate voters and potentially deepen divisions in our country. Probably what's deepen divisions in the country is the conduct of this president and we have a chance to change all of that look. Systemic racism preceded this president and even when we defeat them. It will be widows that's why we need a systemic. Approach to dismantle its. It's not enough to just take a racist policy replace it with a neutral one and expect things we'll just get better on their own. Harms compounds in the same way that a dollar saved compound. So does the dollar still. And we know that the generational theft of the descendants of slaves as part of why everything from housing. To education to health to employment basically puts us in two different countries. I have proposed do you most comprehensive vision. To tackle systemic racism and every one of these areas marshaling as many resources as one into the Marshall plan to rebuild Europe but. This time it Douglas plan that we invest right here at home. To make sure there were not only dealing with things like the over incarceration of black Americans but also blacks solutions. Entrepreneurship. Raising to 25% the target. For the federal government to do business for minority owned businesses investing in HB CUs that are training and educating the next generation apart for. We handed must do that fought. That means transcending this framework. That pits us against each of the pits. A single black mother of three against the displaced auto worker 'cause when I come where I come from a lot of times that displaced auto worker is a single black mother of three we've got to say that bring people forgot. Also a concern for people of color is criminal justice reform. Senator Harrison you released your plan for that just this week and it does contradict some of your prior positions among them you used to oppose legalization of marijuana. Now you don't. He used to oppose outside investigations of police shootings now you don't. You said that you changed on these and other things because you were quote swimming against the current and thankfully the currents have changed but when you had the power. Why didn't try to affect change that. I. There have been I'm glad you asked me this question and there have been many distortions of my record let me be very clear. I made a decision to become a prosecutor for two reasons. One I have always wanted to protect people and keep them safe and second I was born knowing. About how this criminal justice system in America has worked in a way that has been informed by racial bias. And I could tell you extensively about the experiences I and my family members of personally hand. But I made a decision. That if I was gonna have the ability to reform the system I would try it do it from the in silent. And so I took on the position that allowed me without asking permission to create one of the first in the nation. Initiatives that was a model and became a national model around people who are arrested for drugs and giving them jobs. I created one of the first in the nation requirements. Then a state law enforcement agency would have to Wear cameras and keep them on full time I created one of the first in the nation. Training for police officer on the issue of racial bias and the need to reform the system. Was I able to get enough done absolutely not but my plan has been described by activist. As being a bold and comprehensive plan that is about ending mass incarceration. About taking the process out of the criminal justice system I plan on shutting down for profit prisons on day one. It will be about what we need to do. Did hold law enforcement including prosecutors accountable and finally. My plan is about making sure that in America's criminal justice system we. That we and solitary confinement and that we worked on keeping families intact and is president of the United States knowing the system from the inside. I'll have the ability to be an effective leader and get the stop complete. Thank you senator Harris senator Klobuchar. During your eight years as a prosecutor in Minnesota there were dozens of incidents where black men were killed by police. Critics say that too often sided with police in these cases. The ACLU's legal director Minnesota has said that you showed no interest in racial justice do you wish now that you had done more. That's not my record. We are here. At a historically black college. And I think of an Obama backed college Barbara Jordan in something that she wants said she said what the people want is simple they want. A country as good as its promise and that same can be said of the criminal justice system. So when I was there at the way we can't OP's police shootings I actually took the stand. To pat make sure outside investigators handled them I took on our major police chief in Minneapolis but in that. Prosecutor's office they were handled with a grand jury. That's how they were all handled across our state I now believe it is better for accountability. If the prosecutor handles them and makes those decisions herself. That aside. I am proud of the work our staff did 400 people in our office the cases that came to us African American community that came to us they said there was no justice for their little kits. There was a kid named Byron Phillips that was shot on its front porch no one had bothered to figure out who did it. When I came into that office we works with the community groups we put up billboards we found the shooter and we put him in champ. We did the same for the killer of a little girl named Paige Edwards who is doing a home marketer kitchen table and the shot through the window. What changes did we make doctor white collar crimes in a big way diversify the office in a big way. Work with the innocence project to make sure we do much better with eyewitness psyche and as a senator and as your president I will make sure that we don't just do the first step pact when it comes to criminal sentencing. That we move to the second step back. Which means the 90% of people that are incarcerated. In local and state jails. Let's reduce those sentences for a nonviolent offenders and let's get them jobs and let them vote when they get out of prison. Too many Americans behind bars. Vice president finance you have a plan to release many nonviolent drug offenders from prison. Senator Booker says that your plan is not ambitious enough your response. First of all let me say that. When I came back from Los collided job with print. And big time law firm. And left and became a public defender because my statements under siege from Doctor King was assassinated. Iraqi private National Guard for ten months. And involvement began as a young congressman young's honor our councilman I introduce legislation try to keep them putting a sewer plant a poor neighborhood. I made sure that we did dealt with redlining and should have to land where they operated center. The fact of the matter is that what's happened is that where your situation now. Where there are so many people. Who are in jail and shouldn't be Ngo a whole means by which they should change is to hold model has to change we should be talking about. Rehabilitation nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime. As when we're in the White House released 36000. People from the federal prison system nobody should be in jail for a drug problem they should be going directly to rehabilitate we build more rehabilitation centers not prison we honor the guided put ND. Acquitted drug courts to divert people from the criminal justice system. And so while we have to change the whole way to look at this we put people imprisoned we have to pretended when they get out. Nobody who got in prison for marijuana for example immediately upon being released they should be there for mr. that's should be mr. Maynard they should be out in their records should be expunged every single right should be retired. When you finish your term in prison you should be able not only vote but have access to pell grants have access to be able to get housing. Have access to be able to move along away. I've made out itself planned along those lines and the fact is we've learned so much more bank honest and I thank president. Senator broker 45 seconds to respond. All our criminal justice has been so savagely broken there's no difference in America between blacks whites Latinos for using drugs were dealing drugs quicker African American. You're almost four times more likely to be arrested and incarcerated destroying your lives. And so much of this comes down to privilege. We have a criminal justice system the Bryan Stevenson says treat you better if you rich and guilty and if you're poor and innocent. And so I have challenged this whole field. We can specifically in demonstrate that we now show that there are 171000. People. Unjustly incarcerated America and all of us should come forward and say when we are president the United States when I'm president I states we will release from the let me be specific. I joined together and lead in the United States senate the only major bipartisan bill passed on at this present for criminal justice reform. That is forty led to thousands of people coming out of jail. If 87 members the United States senate says that these such infants or wait too long and we changed it but we didn't make it retroactive. We can literally point to the people that are in jail unjustly right now. Everyone on this speech should say that we you're gonna get clemency to these 171000. People and I challenge you don't just say. Big statement back it up with details of the people in prison right now. Looking for one of the most sacrosanct ideals of this nation. Which is liberty and freedom we need to reform this system and we must do it now everything they can't wait for small.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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