During last night’s MSNBC Townhall, Presidential “struggle” candidate, John Kasich was asked by an African American republican: “what would you do to build trust and reform social and economic injustice in the African American community”. Kasich’s reply was noteworthy as it hearkened back to the GOP posture of yester-year. Instead of offering strategies for attracting businesses and jobs to black communities or addressing inequity in school resource funding or offering initiatives to build thriving charter academies in black communities, Kasich seemed to view the question purely as a Criminal Justice inquiry and only when pressed by moderator Chuck Todd did Kasich discuss jobs or the economy in black communities. Hearing “social and economic justice” Kasich seemed to pigeon hole the question as a stereotype of black interests in police reform. While reforming the criminal justice system generally has profound economic consequences, the tepid police related reforms offered by Kasich missed the mark in a significant policy sense.
Kasich’s reply was to recall his creation of a committee that worked to express to the black community the good will of law enforcement and that officers simply don’t want to be “killed” or “taken out”. While the safety of law enforcement is a primary interest to all, it’s inclusion in his answer serves to curiously reinforce the notion that cops are under-siege and the black “super-predator” narrative damaging Hillary Clinton. It is worth pausing to consider that Kasich was asked how to improve social and economic injustices and his first statement was to emphasize officer safety from the violent impulses presumably in the black community? He went on to note that he revamped the use of deadly force policy and moved to create a police force that looked like the community it was serving. In the field of criminal justice reform, Kasich was offering very low hanging fruit. The primary cause of black incarceration is non-violent drug offense but as numerous studies have concluded blacks are no more likely than whites to use drugs. The outrageously high rates of incarceration are a result of targeting and unequal enforcement of drug laws against black communities. As John Ehrlichmen-former Domestic Policy Chief for Richard Nixon confessed, the drug war was created to target black people. Numerous exposes have uncovered how law enforcement routinely enforces drug laws through greater scrutiny of black and poor communities. Creating diverse police forces seems like a minor reform, given the totality of the issue and it’s profound implications for black families, black businesses and the black economy. He ended his statement by highlighting his attempt to let non-violent felons wipe their records clean, in order to gain employment which does address the economic incentive that generally drives recidivism but he felt the odd compulsion to book-end his statement with “IF YOU’RE A GANGBANGER, YOU WILL NEVER GET OUT”. The response in totality was peculiar. Kasich offered a winding reply that offered the African American questioner a more diverse police force and a potential cleansing of records for non-violent offenders as a paltry sandwich between assurances to the general GOP voting base that he was still tough on crime.
Kasich was asked about social and economic injustice which could broadly be seen as a question relating to the economy in black communities. Only when pressed by moderator Chuck Todd, did Kasich discuss creating minority set-asides for the construction of a road in his state. Kasich could have seen the question as a prompt to opine on entrepreneurship and improving prospects for funding minority start-ups. It could have be seen as a question prompting a discussion of systemic impediments to creating wealth and opportunity. Offering clean records to obtain jobs in jobless communities for individuals that have lost years of potential training and education as a result of being incarcerated for recreational drug use, is a half measure and only a band-aid after the state has already inflicted a severe wound to the family of black communities. For a candidate that has built it’s success on the Tone of it’s candidate this was quite possibly Kasich’s most tone def answer of the political season.