On Thursday, during a town hall at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was asked about her recent comments that "our criminal justice system" is "racist."
The following is her exchange with a man named Wesley:
WESLEY: As a young American of color, your recent comments that you made in New Orleans are just a little bit concerning to me. You said that the justice system, and I just wanna quote you so I say it right, "is racist from front to back."
I'm just concerned that your rhetoric there is inciting some of the division that you claim that the president is purporting. You say that Donald Trump undermines the justice system, but it highly concerns me that you made a blanket statement that the over 400 federal judges of color, thousands of law enforcement officers of color, and even the new black police commissioner of Boston of color are racist.
Do you feel it is beneficial as a federal representative to blanketly claim the entire justice system – and I mean, like, blanketly – and the hard working Americans that serve in that capacity are racist?
WARREN: I appreciate your asking the question. Did you listen to the interview? Did you actually see the interview?
WESLEY: I did, yes.
WARREN: Well if you did, then you know that this wasn't about individuals. I didn't call any individual anything. What I was talking about is a system that has a lot of good people in it, a lot of people – law enforcement officers, judges, public defenders – who, by golly, have dedicated their lives to getting out there to try to build a justice system that works, and who themselves have come forward and said this system needs reform. It needs significant reform.
Warren went on to give several examples of the ways in which she claims the data show that African-Americans are treated differently than whites under the law.
Warren’s original statement, given at Dillard University in New Orleans, was as follows: "Let’s just start with the hard truth about our criminal justice system: It's racist ... front to back."
It wasn’t only Wesley who criticized Warren. On Friday, Yarmouth Police Chief Frank G. Frederickson published his own rebuttal on Facebook, as well as an open letter written by Dudley Police Chief and Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association President Steven J. Wojnar:
Frederickson’s letter stated in part:
This statement is an insult to the hard working men and women of the Yarmouth Police Department as well as other Local, State and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies who are part of the criminal justice system.
While Wojnar’s letter stated in part:
As a police chief in your home state of Massachusetts, as well as the statewide association representative, I am extremely troubled by this statement. Labeling the entire criminal justice profession as "racist" spreads false and damaging information about our members...
When our elected officials make generalized and inflammatory statements about our entire profession, without any information to back their position, it creates further hostility toward our officers and can damage the positive relationships with our residents that we have worked long and hard to establish.
From the outside, it appears your statement was strategically placed to gather support for your position.
In all fairness to Senator Warren, in her response to Wesley, she did mention "study after study" that allegedly show a differentiation in incarceration rates between blacks and whites. However, perhaps the Senator from Massachusetts should be more articulate going forward, not leaving the door open to quotes that, while perhaps taken out of context, can be seen as deliberately inflammatory, and as a play to her base.