Biden hits back at Booker, with aide calling Newark PD a ‘civil rights nightmare’

Updated Jul 24, 2019

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden raised the heat in an ongoing clash with fellow Democratic presidential contender Cory Booker, criticizing his stewardship of the Newark Police Department that a top aide called a “civil rights nightmare."

Biden responded Wednesday after the senator called the former vice president “an architect of mass incarceration.” It was the second day that Booker dismissed Biden’s criminal justice proposals as being insufficient and continued a weeks-long series of attacks against the early frontrunner in opinion polls.

“His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African American men,” Biden told reporters about Booker. “We took action against them, the Justice Department took action against them, held the police department accountable.”

Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, joined in the fray.

“It is Senator Booker, in fact, who has some hard questions to answer about his role in the criminal justice system,” Bedingfield said. “Booker was running a police department that was such a civil rights nightmare that the U.S .Department of Justice intervened.”

During Booker’s tenure, the U.S. Justice Department launched a review of Newark’s police department practices after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint alleging discriminatory policing. The ACLU’s 96-page complaint accused police of rampant misconduct and said officers with a high number of credible complaints were allowed to remain on the force.

The three-year probe by the Justice Department concluded in 2014 with a damning report that found the city’s police department routinely engaged in acts of excessive force and violations of residents’ constitutional rights, particularly those of minorities. By then, Booker had moved on to the U.S. Senate.

For example, the probe found that while blacks comprised nearly 54 percent of the city’s population, they accounted for 85 percent of pedestrian stops and nearly 80 percent of arrests.

The review also found more than 20 percent of officers’ reported use of force was unreasonable. Police in narcotics and gang units stole from those they arrested, the report said.

The Justice Department appointed a federal monitor in 2016 to oversee the city’s settlement with the federal government to fix its troubling practices. The monitor, Peter Harvey, is still in place.

Booker said the problems predated his tenure as mayor.

“We inherited in Newark, New Jersey, a police department with decades-long challenges,” Booker said Wednesday at the annual NAACP conference in Detroit. “We ended up working with the ACLU to create national standard-setting accountability measures.”

The state ACLU, the Newark police director and Booker agreed in 2013 to publish monthly reports on the sex, race and age of everyone stopped and frisked, and the number of internal affairs complaints and their outcome.

In criticizing Biden’s criminal justice proposals, Booker referred to Biden’s role in passing the 1994 crime bill, which he has blamed for increasing the number of inmates, predominantly members of minority groups .

“The 1994 crime bill accelerated mass incarceration and inflicted immeasurable harm on black, brown, and low-income communities,” Booker said.

Bedingfield, though, said almost 90 percent of those behind bars were in state and local prisons, incarcerated under laws Biden had nothing to do with.

Booker and Biden will be on the same debate stage next week in Detroit.

The New Jersey senator first called Biden out last month when the former vice president talked about working with segregationist senators James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia. Biden later apologized.

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