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The Only Gubernatorial Candidate Talking About Criminal Justice Reform

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega The Only Gubernatorial Candidate Talking About Criminal Justice Reform
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Against a party favorite, Kucinich and Samples create a campaign based on relatability and criminal justice reform.

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In the race to be Ohio’s next governor, progressive candidate Dennis Kucinich and his running mate Tara Samples are running a familiar campaign. Their pro-laborer platform, one centered on a $15 minimum wage and healthcare for all, calls back passionate, Brooklyn-tinted speeches heard during Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president.

They face party favorites, too, in Richard Cordray and his running mate Betty Sutton, who’ve largely focused on the opioid crisis.

State organizing director for Kucinich/Samples Aramis Sundiata says the race he’s aiding isn’t entirely like Sanders’; their progressive campaign goes a step further, into criminal justice reform.

“He knows, you know, you should stop locking up people for non-violent offenses,” says Sundiata, who’s also a member of a local grassroots group fighting police brutality, People’s Justice Project (PJP), “stop locking up people for ridiculous things. The idea of jobs, not jails, wages, increasing the minimum wage.”

Kucinich and Samples offer an extensive look at their ideas for policy change in the arena of criminal justice. At its core is ending the “war on drugs,” which instead of nabbing kingpins has largely resulted in the arrest and incarceration of millions of non-violent, low-level offenders who now make up a quarter of the country’s prison population. They want to end the prison-industrial complex and the privatization of prisons; implement a trauma-based approach to criminal justice by prioritizing treatment, mental healthcare and rehabilitation over jail time; and eliminate barriers in housing and employment that keep restored citizens from being able to move on after their release.

The Kucinich/Samples platform recognizes racial discrimination within the criminal justice system. African-American and Latinx individuals are more than three times more likely to be arrested, charged and incarcerated than Whites, even though they commit crimes at similar rates, creating communities of people lacking family stability, employment, and voting power.

Samples says one solution is diversifying the police force and recruiting community members. She said that first requires breaking down the barriers keeping black and brown people from becoming police officers by implementing mentorship programs that can foster an interest in the career and prepare individuals for each test from start to finish.

As far as police brutality is concerned — an issue that Sundiata said is important to the people he represents — Samples says, due to the collective bargaining power the Fraternal Order of Police has, true reform would require “working across the aisle.” More concretely, she supports drug testing officers who’ve been involved in a shooting, both for marijuana and steroids.

Local organizer for the Kucinich/Samples campaign Adrienne Hood says that’s a policy she’s looking for Ohio to implement.

“I drove a school bus for 10-plus years, and if I’d gotten in an accident I would be taken from my bus immediately and taken down for drug testing,” says Hood. “The fact that they have a weapon and can take a life in an instant — why is that not a policy already? There are other states doing it right now, so I know it’s not impossible.”

Hood is the mother of Henry Green, the 23-year-old who was fatally shot in 2016 by Columbus police officer Zachary Rosen. Rosen, who was fired by the City of Columbus last year, was recently reinstated and now patrols the South Side, Southeast Side and Far East Side.

Hood says she relates to the campaign not just because of the policy, but because of Samples herself, a mother who’s self-described as “coming from the neighborhood.”

“The mere fact that she had two of her children before she even graduated from high school, and not only did she have those two children, she later had three more children, and she continued to press her way — that, to me, shows determination,” says Hood. “It shows dedication and commitment.

And then for her to be an African-American woman, which, for many reasons, we are considered to be on the bottom of the totem pole anyway,” Hood continues, “so, for her basically to say, ‘H no, I’m not accepting that,’ and she strided [sic] on, — that just really touched me. If she can do it, anybody can. You have to have the connections, the community behind you, but know that it is possible. That just really stood out to me.”

Samples criticizes other gubernatorial campaigns for failing on the issue of criminal justice and politicians in general for making “open-ended promises that they never carry out.”

“For me, someone who comes from the inner city, someone who comes from the neighborhood and has parents who still live in the neighborhood, I understand what the issues are there,” says Samples. “I don’t need someone to give me a textbook about what it looks like in that neighborhood. I’m from that neighborhood, and our neighborhoods are falling apart, and you never see any of these individuals until it’s election time.”

According to a new poll by Baldwin Wallace University, Kucinich and Samples are favored by 15 percent of voters, 16 points behind Cordray and Sutton. That said, 41 percent of democratic voters remain uncertain as to who’ll get their vote.

Organizers Aramis Sundiata and Adrienne Hood.

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