Emotions over the state’s new bail reform laws simmered to a boil Wednesday as the Legislature’s Republicans and Democrats squared off in a duel of press conferences at the state Capitol. Until something is done to reconcile the two sides, this battle is likely to be a long one.
“This isn’t fear mongering, this isn’t a rush of judgment. These are the facts,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-120, said as he defended the Republicans’ call for repeal or amendment of the laws. He said the victims attending the press conference experienced “a system of justice tilted heavily toward the accused while ignoring the victim.”
Over at the Million Dollar Staircase, there was a resounding disagreement as Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-55, and state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, D-36, started their speeches at a rally drawing parallels with the current bail dispute to slavery and the Jim Crow era. Walker said mass incarceration and the disproportionate impact and representation of communities of color in the criminal justice system is just a modern form of slavery.
“We have seen this story before,” Walker said. “We recognize that the Constitution declared when slavery was going to be abolished and it said that it was abolished except in the case of criminal punishment.”
Data has shown although they make up the minority of the U.S. population, African-Americans and Hispanics make up the majority of the U.S. prison population despite committing crimes at the same rates as their white counterparts. Studies have also found communities of color are policed and punished more aggressively than their white counterparts for the same crimes.
Following the lead of fellow Republicans in the Senate, Assembly Republicans called for a full repeal of the reforms, but Barclay showed some moderation. And he offered a point on which to build a compromise.
“Although we want a full repeal,” he said, “one of the first things I can say we agree on is giving discretion back to the judges.”
If the Assembly and the Senate can start with judicial discretion as the first talking point, the bail reform law backlash can be molded into something on which both sides can agree.