A quarter of a century ago, Bernie Sanders was the lone representative from Vermont to the United States House of Representatives after the 1990 election. Unlike most of his peers in 1991, Sanders believed passionately that the United States criminal justice system was on the wrong track, and even back then incarceration rates – the number of people in prison per 1000 population – showed the authoritarian direction crime had taken in America.
“We have the highest percentage of people in jail, in America, of any industrialized nation on earth. What do we have to do, put half the country behind bars?” asked Sanders twenty three years before Ferguson turned criminal justice into a national political issue and spawning the Black Lives Matter.
Unfortunately, other politicians from either party didn’t take to heart the first term congressman’s impassioned speech back then. It does remind me of Mr. Smith goes to Washington, only in Bernie Sanders’ case, if Smith just stays long enough, and on message, eventually the world’s view of events comes around to his side.
Sanders concluded with this, “If you want to get tough on crime, let’s deal with the causes of crime. Let’s demand that every man, woman and child in this country have a decent opportunity and a decent standard of living. Let’s not keep putting poor people into jail and disproportionately hurting blacks.” Sanders also said that “All over the industrialized world now, states are saying lets put an end to institutional murder, state murder, let us stop capital punishment.”
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.