Barack Obama on Crime

Democratic incumbent President; IL Senator (2004-2008)

FactCheck:Biden more conservative than Obama on crime issues

Vice President Biden does not agree with President Obama on all issues--their differences are especially stark on crime and punishment issues. Biden supports the death penalty while Obama opposes it; Biden supports the War on Drugs while Obama opposes that too. You can read about all of their differences (and their agreements) in side-by-side form our summary of our book:
Source: Paperback: Obama-Biden vs. Romney-Ryan On The Issues , Aug 27, 2012

Survived vague threats from Ku Klux Klan during campaign

The Secret Service began protecting Barack Obama on May 3, 2007, 18 months before votes for president were to be cast. It was the earliest point at which the Secret Service had ever protected a presidential candidate. In contrast, in the 2004 election, John Kerry and John Edwards began receiving protection in February of that year, 8 months before the general election.

While Obama never received a specific threat before his protection started, Secret Service agents picked up a number of vaguely threatening Internet comments, mostly directed at the fact that he is African American.

Chatter among white supremacists on the Internet increased throughout the campaign. On Election Day, Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke rallied white supremacists in a call to action, saying Obama's election represented a "night of tragedy and sadness." In a website broadcast, Duke said, "Barack Obama has a long history of antagonizing white people." He added, "We as European Americans have to rally for our survival."

Source: In the President`s Secret Service, by R. Kessler, p.216-219 , Jun 29, 2009

1997: Accomplished bipartisan criminal justice reform

As a lead sponsor of landmark legislation to reform the Illinois criminal justice system [Obama accomplished] several initially controversial measures such as mandatory videotaping of confessions. Obama just kept working until he had built a consensus, and he did this during a period when the Democrats were the minority party in the state senate. This mode of leadership is what LBJ achieved and what George W. Bush promised as a candidate ("a uniter, not a divider') but quickly abandoned in office.
Source: Obama`s Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, p.190 , Aug 25, 2008

Job training for ex-offenders, to avoid return to crime

We have to fight for those young men standing on street corners with little hope for the future besides ending up in jail. We have to break the cycle of poverty and violence that’s gripping too many neighborhoods. That’s why I’ll end the Bush policy of t
Source: McCain-Obama speeches at 99th NAACP Convention , Jul 12, 2008

We need more cops; but we also need more families

How many times in the last year has this city lost a child at the hands of another child? How many times have our hearts stopped in the middle of the night with the sound of a gunshot or a siren? How many teenagers have we seen hanging around on street corners when they should be sitting in a classroom? How many are sitting in prison when they should be working, or at least looking for a job? How many in this generation are we willing to lose to poverty or violence or addiction? How many?

Yes, we need more cops on the street. Yes, we need fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Yes, we need more money for our schools. Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities.

But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child--it’s the courage to raise one.

Source: Chicago church speech, in Change We Can Believe In, p.235 , Jun 15, 2008

Reduce recidivism by providing ex-offender supports

Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 42 , Feb 2, 2008

Ban racial profiling & eliminate disparities in sentencing

Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 48-49 , Feb 2, 2008

Have a civil rights division enforce laws fairly and justly

If we know that in our criminal justice system, African-Americans and whites, for the same crime, receive--are arrested at very different rates, are convicted at very different rates, receive very different sentences. That is something that we have to talk about. But that’s a substantive issue and it has to do with how do we pursue racial justice. If I am president, I will have a civil rights division that is working with local law enforcement so that they are enforcing laws fairly and justly. But I would expect a white president or a woman president should want to do the same thing, because I believe the pursuit of racial equality, of the perfection of this union, is not just a particular special interest issue of the African-American community. That is how all of us are going to move forward. And to the extent that we don’t deal with those issues, those longstanding, deep-seated issues, we will continue to be hampered. We will be competing with the world with one hand tied behind our backs.
Source: 2008 Congressional Black Caucus Democratic debate , Jan 21, 2008

GovWatch: No, more young black men in college than in prison

“I don’t want to wake up four years from now and discover that we still have more young black men in prison than in college.”
--Barack Obama, fund-raiser in Harlem, NY, Nov. 29, 2007.

Simply untrue, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. There may be a case for arguing, as some Obama supporters have done, that the total number of black prisoners is slightly higher than the total number of black students. But I can only fact check the comparison the candidate actually made, which was between young black men in prison and in college. Rather than acknowledge the error, the Obama campaign declined to provide statistical support.

Source: GovWatch on 2008 Pinocchio Awards for Biggest Fib of 2007 , Jan 1, 2008

Lack of enforcement sets tone for more hate crimes

OBAMA: [to Biden]: There is a consequence to the demagoguery [over immigration]--hate crimes against Latinos have gone way up over the last year. We’ve also seen over the last several months this epidemic of nooses being hung all across the country since the events down in Jena, Louisiana. And it indicates the degree to which a president has to set a tone of bringing all people together as opposed to excluding people. And being willing to talk about racial issues when they arise and having a civil rights division of the justice department that is aggressive about investigating. So, what can we do to strengthen the enforcement of hate crimes legislation? It is something that I will prioritize as president but I don’t want to have to wait until I am.

BIDEN: We can and we should move [the pending Hate Crimes legislation] forward. The impediment right now is the president. We need someone in the civil rights division who is aggressive in going after these hate crimes. I would not wait.

Source: 2007 Iowa Brown & Black Presidential Forum , Dec 1, 2007

Legislated protecting police detainees during interrogation

[Obama’s] record as a state senator, especially on civil liberties, is strong. Obama sponsored successful legislation to combat racial profiling and to protect police detainees during interrogation. He sponsored an unsuccessful bill banning discrimination against lesbians and gays.
Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p. 22 , Nov 11, 2007

Pushed Illinois bill to videotape all capital interrogations

Obama had a 2002 bill to stop police abuse. Chicago had become infamous for use of torture by police to help frame innocent people. Thirteen innocent men on Death Row were exonerated and released, some of them victims of these tortured confessions. Illinois desperately needed some action to restore confidence in the police. Obama’s proposal was to require videotaping of interrogations of suspects in capital cases. When Obama began, the idea of a bill was opposed by police, prosecutors, most of the senate and the governor. The governor was determined not to appear soft on crime, and had promised to veto any proposal for mandatory tapings. By the time Obama finished his work, the police and prosecutors embraced the bill, it passed in the Illinois Senate by a vote of 58-0. The governor took the unusual step of reversing himself to sign it, and Illinois became the first state to require such tapings.
Source: The Improbable Quest, by John K. Wilson, p.145 , Oct 30, 2007

No extra penalty for gang association

Most people like the idea of a politician who votes for individual rights, but the fact that Obama could do so and still maintain the respect of law enforcement shows his political skills. Obama voted against a proposal to criminalize contact with a gang for any convicts on probation or out on bail. In 2001, Obama opposed making gang activity eligible for the death penalty. “There’s a strong overlap between gang affiliation and young men of color.... I think it’s problematic for them to be singled out as more likely to receive the death penalty for carrying out certain acts than are others who do the same thing.“ In 1999, Obama opposed mandatory adult prosecution for youth who discharge a firearm nea a school, declaring, ”There is really no proof or indication that automatic transfers and increased penalties and adult penalties for juvenile offenses have, in fact, proven to be more effective in reducing juvenile crime or cutting back on recidivism.“
Source: The Improbable Quest, by John K. Wilson, p.146 , Oct 30, 2007

Works on ex-offender laws because it could have been him

Obama said, “In my book, I mention that I dabbled in drugs or that I was acting tough. I put that in there explicitly because what I wanted to communicate was the degree to which many young men, particularly young African-American men, engage in self-destructive behavior because they don’t have a clear sense of direction. But I also wanted to point out that there is way to pull out of that and refocus, and in my case, it was tying myself to something much larger than myself. In my case, that was trying to promote a fair and just society. That is the reason I work on ex-offender legislation. I say to myself that if I had been growing up in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago, there is no reason to think that I wouldn’t be in jail today, that I could have easily taken that same wrong turn. That is something that I am very mindful of and it is something that motivates me.“
Source: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell, p.202 , Aug 14, 2007

Need justice that is not just us, but is everybody

Q: In the last decade, whites were 70% of persons arrested, but only 40% of inmates. Why?

A: The criminal justice system is not color blind. It does not work for all people equally, and that is why it’s critical to have a president who sends a signal that we are going to have a system of justice that is not just us, but is everybody. I passed racial profiling legislation at the state level. It requires some political courage, because oftentimes you are accused of being soft on crime.

Source: 2007 Democratic Primary Debate at Howard University , Jun 28, 2007

Reformed death penalty by listening & compromising

I arrived in this capital city as a state Senator. It was here, in Springfield, where I saw all that is America converge--farmers and teachers, businessmen and laborers, all of them with a story to tell, all of them seeking a seat at the table, all of them clamoring to be heard. I made lasting friendships here--friends that I see in the audience today.

It was here we learned to disagree without being disagreeable--that it’s possible to compromise so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised; and that so long as we’re willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best in people instead of the worst.

That’s why we were able to reform a death penalty system that was broken. That’s why we were able to give health insurance to children in need. That’s why we made the tax system more fair and just for working families, and that’s why we passed ethics reforms that the cynics said could never, ever be passed.

Source: Speech in Springfield, in Change We Can Believe In, p.194-5 , Feb 10, 2007

Some heinous crimes justify the ultimate punishment

While the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime, I believe there are some crimes--mass murder, the rape and murder of a child--so heinous that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment. On the other hand, the way capital cases were tried in Illinois at the time was so rife with error, questionable police tactics, racial bias, and shoddy lawyering, that 13 death row inmates had been exonerated
Source: The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama, p. 58 , Oct 1, 2006

Videotape all capital punishment interrogations

In the Illinois Senate, I sponsored a bill to require videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases [after the] governor had instituted a moratorium on al executions.

In negotiating the bill, I talked about the common value that I believed everyone shared--that no innocent person should end up on death row, abd that no person guilty of a capital offense should go free. At the end of the process, the bill had the support of all the parties involved, and it passed unanimously.

Source: The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama, p. 57-59 , Oct 1, 2006

Passed 150 laws to toughen penalties for violent crime

OBAMA: The fact is I’ve passed 150 pieces of legislation that toughened penalties for violent criminals, everything from sex offenders to domestic abusers to gang bangers. So there’s only one candidate who’s ever dealt with hardened criminals on this stage and that’s me. The other guy only talks about it and I think that’s something voters will be focused on in this election.

KEYES: When I was part of the effort to fight terrorists, I dealt with some of the most hardened criminals on the face of the earth. What I learned to understand, that Senator Obama seems to forget when dealing with domestic crime and foreign relations is that you must go after the people who cause the problem and you must get after them before than can do harm. You must deal with the individuals who pose a threat to the decency of our communities.

Source: Illinois Senate Debate #3: Barack Obama vs. Alan Keyes , Oct 21, 2004

Restrict police entry rules, to protect our civil liberties

Q: On the right to let cops go into dangerous places with search warrants without knocking, you voted no as well. Would you explain?

OBAMA: With respect to the potential for police officers not to knock when they go in, there’s an issue of search and seizures and there must be some parameters for law enforcement to protect our civil liberties.

Source: Illinois Senate Debate #3: Barack Obama vs. Alan Keyes , Oct 21, 2004

Death penalty should be enforced fairly and with caution

Q: [to Keyes]: Doesn’t your pro-life stance conflict with your support of the death penalty?

KEYES: It doesn’t conflict at all. Abortion and capital punishment are at different level of moral concern. Abortion is intrinsically, objectively wrong and sinful whereas capital punishment is a matter of judgment.

OBAMA: I think that the death penalty is appropriate in certain circumstances. There are especially heinous crimes: terrorism, the harm of children. Obviously, we’ve had some problems in this state in the application of the death penalty. That’s why a moratorium was put in place and that’s why I was so proud to be one of the leaders in overhauling a death penalty system that was broken. We became the first in the nation requiring the video taping of capital interrogations and confessions. We have to have this ultimate sanction in certain circumstances where the whole community says “this is beyond the pale.”

Source: Illinois Senate Debate #3: Barack Obama vs. Alan Keyes , Oct 21, 2004

Death penalty should not discriminate by gang membership

Q: On mandatory death sentences for gang members who kill cops you voted no. Would you explain?

OBAMA: [The proposed legislation] was entirely unnecessary and unconstitutional. It suggested that I could kill a police officer but because I’m not a gang member, I would be treated differently. I think both cases should be death penalty eligible.

KEYES: Senator Obama does not think it superfluous to have hate crimes legislation that adds a special animus to certain acts of violence already penalized against the law. But in order to convey against those certain acts a special category of deviation from society. The law provides a special message aimed at discouraging things considered especially harmful to a society and a community.

Source: Illinois Senate Debate #3: Barack Obama vs. Alan Keyes , Oct 21, 2004

Battles legislatively against the death penalty

Obama’s most significant contribution has been his legislative battles against the death penalty, and against in the criminal justice system. In Illinois, it’s been a series of shocking exonerations of innocent people who are on death row. He was involved very intimately in drafting and passing legislation that requires the video taping of police interrogations and confessions in all capital cases. And he also was one of the co-sponsors of this very comprehensive reform or the death penalty system in Illinois, which many people say may trigger the retreat on the death penalty in many other states.
Source: Salim Muwakkil and Amy Goodman, Democracy Now , Jul 15, 2004

Supports alternative sentencing and rehabilitation

Source: 1998 IL State Legislative National Political Awareness Test , Jul 2, 1998

Voted YES on reinstating $1.15 billion funding for the COPS Program.

Amendment would increase funding for the COPS Program to $1.15 billion for FY 2008 to provide state and local law enforcement with critical resources. The funding is offset by an unallocated reduction to non-defense discretionary spending.

Proponents recommend voting YES because:

This amendment reinstates the COPS Program. I remind everyone, when the COPS Program was functioning, violent crime in America reduced 8.5% a year for 7 years in a row. Throughout the 1990s, we funded the COPS Program at roughly $1.2 billion, and it drove down crime. Now crime is rising again. The COPS Program in the crime bill worked, and the Government Accounting Office found a statistical link between the COPS grants and a reduction in crime. The Brookings Institution reported the COPS Program is one of the most cost-effective programs we have ever had in this country. Local officials urgently need this support.

Opponents recommend voting NO because:

The COPS Program has some history. It was started by President Clinton. He asked for 100,000 police officers. He said that when we got to 100,000, the program would stop. We got to 110,000 police officers and the program continues on and on and on.

This program should have ended 5 years ago or 6 years ago, but it continues. It is similar to so many Federal programs that get constituencies that go on well past what their original purpose was. It may be well intentioned, but we cannot afford it and we shouldn't continue it. It was never thought it would be continued this long.

Reference: Biden Amendment; Bill S.Amdt.529 on S.Con.Res.21 ; vote number 2007-110 on Mar 23, 2007

Increase funding for "COPS ON THE BEAT" program.

Obama co-sponsored increasing funding for "COPS ON THE BEAT" program

COPS Improvements Act of 2007 - Amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to make grants for public safety and community policing programs (COPS ON THE BEAT or COPS program). Revises grant purposes to provide for:

  1. the hiring or training of law enforcement officers for intelligence, antiterror, and homeland security duties;
  2. the hiring of school resource officers;
  3. school-based partnerships between local law enforcement agencies and local school systems to combat crime, gangs, drug activities, and other problems facing elementary and secondary schools;
  4. innovative programs to reduce and prevent illegal drug (including methamphetamine) manufacturing, distribution, and use; and
  5. enhanced community policing and crime prevention grants that meet emerging law enforcement needs.
    Authorizes the Attorney General to make grants to:
  1. assign community prosecutors to handle cases from specific geographic areas and address counterterrorism problems, specific violent crime problems, and localized violent and other crime problems; and
  2. develop new technologies to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in crime prevention.
Source: COPS Improvements Act (S.368/H.R.1700) 07-S368 on Jan 23, 2007

Reduce recidivism by giving offenders a Second Chance.

Obama co-sponsored reducing recidivism by giving offenders a Second Chance

Legislative Outcome: Became Public Law No: 110-199.
Source: Second Chance Act (S.1060/H.R.1593) 08-S1060 on Mar 29, 2007

Other candidates on Crime: Barack Obama on other issues:
Pres.Barack Obama
V.P.Joe Biden
GOP Candidates:
Gov.Mitt Romney(MA)
Rep.Paul Ryan(WI)
Third Party Candidates:
Mayor Rocky Anderson(J)
Roseanne Barr(PF)
Rep.Virgil Goode(C)
Gov.Gary Johnson(L)
Jill Stein(G)
Andre Barnett(Ref.)

GOP Withdrawals:
Rep.Michele Bachmann(MN)
Herman Cain(GA)
Rep.Newt Gingrich(GA)
Gov.Sarah Palin(AK)
Rep.Ron Paul(TX)
Gov.Tim Pawlenty(MN)
Gov.Rick Perry(TX)
Gov.Buddy Roemer(LA)
Sen.Rick Santorum(PA)
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Gun Control
Health Care
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Social Security
Tax Reform

Page last updated: Jan 22, 2013