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Jon Ossoff sheds light on our criminal ‘injustice’ system

President Barack Obama greets inmates during a visit to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. (Photo source: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The stakes are high in Georgia’s runoff races for U.S. Senate. Republicans hold 50 seats and Democrats 48. If Georgia sends even one Republican back to Washington, the GOP keeps control of the Senate. If both Democrats – Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock – win, Democrats gain control because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris becomes the tie-breaking vote. In our series covering what’s at stake, rolling out Editor-at-Large Rashad Richey spoke with Ossoff about criminal justice reform.

Richey: Obviously, there’s a significant disparity in how Black and Brown people are treated in the criminal justice system as opposed to those who are White. You have a commercial I think is really dope. You say clearly, “Hey, I’m a White man. And I would never know what it’s like to be hated and targeted because of who I am.” You seem to identify with, or at least acknowledge, this extreme disparity. What are your plans to correct those injustices?

Ossoff: I will champion the passage of a new Civil Rights Act to end race and class disparities in the criminal justice system. And for folks who are reading this and saying, “Wait a minute. How are you going to do that? Is that really possible?” The answer is yes. It is possible if we build the political power to do it by voting. It is not necessary or inevitable that these injustices persist. We can establish national standards for the use of force to end police brutality. We can empower the Department of Justice to prosecute where there is brutality or racial profiling, where there is race and class inequity in the administration of justice.

We can reform criminal drug laws that are inherently racist and deliberately racist in how they’ve been codified, so they are not simply a means by which the state finds a pretense to criminalize young Black people, thus undermining the opportunities they have and disenfranchising them as voters. I will be a champion for criminal justice reform. And by the way, it’s important for people to know this is not something I am just now engaging with because I’m a candidate for office. A decade ago, I authored, with Congressman Hank Johnson in his office, the Effective Death Penalty Appeals Act to reform federal death penalty appeals. [This was encacted] so people on death row, where there was new evidence of actual innocence, as in the case of Troy Davis, could seek habeas corpus relief in federal court.

My point is I’ve been working on justice reform for a long time. I run a business exposing extrajudicial killings and the wrongful use of force by police and security forces on multiple continents. I cut my teeth in politics working as a very, very young man for Congressman John Lewis. I want folks reading this to understand my background. I’ve been working on these issues for a very long time.

Early voting is underway for the Jan. 5 runoff election. Click here to find your polling location on My Voter Page.