One of the main pillars of middle school principal Jamaal Bowman's congressional campaign is his call for "restorative justice" — sinking money into communities, rather than turning to incarceration.
Bowman, a Justice Democrat, has called to repeal the 1994 Crime Bill, a piece of legislation backed by his opponent, 16-term Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel, because he says the 25-year-old bill has unfairly discriminated against people of color, resulting in the rise of mass incarceration in the United States. For Bowman, there are better methods to clean up his community.
In explaining restorative justice, he told Cheddar Monday "If someone does harm against a community, it's not about torturing them and throwing them in a cage. It's about understanding why that harm was committed in the first place and giving them the opportunity to right the wrong of the harm."
In the 2020 presidential race, controversy surrounding the Crime Bill has been a point of contention for the former Vice President Joe Biden. While Biden was a frontrunner out of the gate, he spent the early days of his campaign answering questions as to why he signed on to the "tough on crime" law that has been criticized for the minimum mandatory sentences that led to more black men being locked up.
In the months since, several candidates have called for its repeal, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who wrote a Medium post outlining her criminal justice policy: "It's not equal justice when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It's long past time for us to reform our system."
Criminal justice reform has been identified as a key issue among black voters in recent years. Pollster Celinda Lake wrote in a piece for The Marshall Project, "by a two-to-one margin, voters believed that our country relies too much on incarcerating people (63 percent to 31 percent who disagreed), including majorities of every subgroup in the data who share this belief."
Now Bowman is championing criminal justice reform as one of his fundamental policies in the race for New York's 16th Congressional District: "If we provided people with the resources and opportunities within their neighborhoods, within their communities, within the district, they wouldn't commit crime in the first place."
"It's easy to give trillion dollar tax cuts to Wall Street. It's easy to invest trillions in the Pentagon," Bowman added. "When are we going to start investing trillions in our children, in community centers, in museums, and in opportunities for them to thrive?"
In a tweet posted in October, Bowman wrote: "It's time to disarm the police."
Although Bowman clarified that he is not calling for the all-out disarmament of all police officers, he did call for a re-alignment of gun control, adding: "We need to have independent investigators, and we need to grow our non-emergency police force so when we respond to someone with a mental health challenge, or a domestic challenge, we respond in a nonviolent way."
Bowman has won the backing of prominent political leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a Justice Democrat-backed candidate herself. In an early poll conducted by progressive think tank Data for Progress in September, 29 percent of Democrats in the district said they would vote for Engel, whereas Bowman grasped the support of 10 percent. However, a whopping 60 percent still said they were not sure.