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Democrat Martin O’Malley touts criminal justice reforms on first SC stop

Martin O'Malley in SC

Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O'Malley in SC Tuesday talks about Vice President Joe Biden considering a run.
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Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O'Malley in SC Tuesday talks about Vice President Joe Biden considering a run.

Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley said Tuesday that at least one thing sets him apart from other candidates.

“There is no candidate in this presidential race in either party that has worked for a longer period of time on ... justice, injustice, violent crime, race and law enforcement,” O’Malley said during his first campaign appearance in the Palmetto State since announcing his candidacy.

O’Malley discussed criminal justice reforms with a small group of the 20/20 Leaders Club, an invitation-only group of African-American business, legal and government professionals.

“Growing injustice ... threatens to tear our country apart,” O’Malley said, adding the root of that inequity extends to the economy and other forces.

The visit with the 20/20 Leaders, a group formed this year, gave O’Malley a chance to reach out to black leaders on topics of race and criminal justice, including his ideas to curb racial profiling, eliminate the excessive use of force and reform criminal sentences.

One club member told about a black friend – a middle-to-upper-middle-class professional – who “literally tenses up in fear” when he hears police sirens.

O’Malley said it is difficult for “white people ... to appreciate the constant state of vulnerability that our fellow Americans experience every day.”

The former prosecutor and Baltimore city councilman, who ran for mayor in 1999, because the city was “on the ropes,” recently was booed at an Arizona forum after he responded to “Black Lives Matter” protesters by saying, “All lives matter.”

He later apologized. On Tuesday, O’Malley talked about what it was like being a white mayor in a crime-ridden city.

We allowed ourselves to become the most violent, addicted and abandoned city in America, and we needed to come together.

– Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley, commenting on Baltimore

“From the outside, people watching said, ‘Oh, this is the white guy campaigning on cracking down on crime.’ ”

But, O’Malley added, he was having conversations in neighborhoods about justice and injustice.

O’Malley also has been criticized by some black leaders for putting in place a “zero-tolerance” approach to policing as Baltimore mayor. Critics say that strategy left many black youth with criminal records and increased mistrust of law enforcement.

He said Tuesday he sought to change the fact that some high-crime areas of Baltimore were not being policed much at all, which he discovered by comparing criminal data with policing activities.

And O’Malley said under his leadership as governor, Maryland closed one of the most violent corrections facilities. Maryland also lowered its incarceration rates and the rates that criminals committed crimes again, he said.

He also said he oversaw new reporting requirements that tracked complaints of police discourtesy and use of force, flagging frequently accused officers for review.

As president, he said he would work to reduce mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes, abolish the death penalty, and grow rehabilitation and work programs for offenders.

O’Malley faces tough competition in his race for the Democratic presidential nomination. He trails frontrunner Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Vice President Joe Biden, who is said to be weighing a run, in South Carolina polls.

O’Malley also met privately Tuesday with leaders of historically black public colleges and universities.

Afterward, he told reporters that his campaign platform includes ways to help historically black schools, including restoring cuts in the federal Pell Grants program and using aid to schools to offer debt-free college options.

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658

Martin O’Malley in SC

What the Democratic presidential hopeful and former Maryland governor said in his first SC campaign visit:

On the death penalty: Having abolished the death penalty in his own state, O’Malley said he wants to end executions at the federal level, saying they are expensive and do not deter crime. Asked how he would respond to South Carolinians who support the death penalty for Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine in a Charleston church, O’Malley said: “I don’t for a second pretend that this is an easy issue. It’s not. But I do know that there’s a difference between criminal justice policies that work to save lives and redeem lives, and policies that don’t work.”

On voting rights: Thursday is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and O’Malley said as president he would push for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote. A bill has been introduced in Congress that would protect voters against policies that create impediments to voting, he said.

‘Would welcome Joe Biden:’ “People are looking for alternatives. They don’t like being told who they’re supposed to be voting for, and they don’t like the sinking sense that’s in the air that somehow big money determines who our nominee is going to be. So I would welcome Vice President Biden to this race.”

Wants S.C.’s Sheheen onboard: O’Malley said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen is a “dear friend” who has been “encouraging me in every way” to run for president. Sheheen did not commit to supporting the governor’s campaign when asked Monday. But O’Malley said he hopes the Kershaw Democrat – whose unsuccessful gubernatorial bid O’Malley campaigned for last year – will join his efforts officially.

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