President Donald Trump spoke Friday about his effort to pass criminal justice reform, noting that it canceled former President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill.
The president spoke at Benedict College in South Carolina as the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center awarded him for signing the landmark criminal justice legislation bill in 2018. The center was founded by twenty black Republicans and twenty black Democrats in 2015 to promote the cause of criminal justice reform in a bipartisan fashion.
“They said it couldn’t be done. Past administrations had tried and failed; some didn’t try very hard, I will say that,” Trump said.
The president noted the bill that passed in 2018 was truly bipartisan as people of all backgrounds joined together to push for the legislation.
“We had them so liberal you wouldn’t believe it and so conservative you wouldn’t believe it, and they got together,” Trump said, calling it “a beautiful thing to watch.”
He cited the bill as an example of what could take place in America with both parties united.
“The First Step Act proved that we can achieve amazing breakthroughs when we come together as a nation and we put the interests of our citizens before the interests of any political party,” Trump said.
The president praised the long history of black Americans striving for freedom, civil rights, and equality, noting that they represented the “forgotten man” he campaigned for in 2016.
“My goal has been to give a voice to the voiceless and to make Washington see and hear those who are made to feel silent and to feel invisible,” he said.
He acknowledged that criminal justice reform was not part of his 2016 campaign but said he heard from many advocates for the issue who asked him to fight for the forgotten people in America’s prison systems.
“To this day, I’m not sure that what I did was a popular thing or an unpopular thing, but I knew it was the right thing to do,” Trump said.
He recalled that Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West brought attention to the case of Alice Johnson who had served 22 years of a first-time drug offense and was facing up to 28 more years in prison.
“The more people I spoke with, the more clear it became the system could be deeply unfair, contributing to a tragic cycle of poverty and crime and incarceration,” Trump said.
Tanesha Bannister, a woman released as a consequence of the First Step Act, also spoke at the event, thanking the president for his efforts. In 2004, Bannister was sentenced to life in prison after she was convicted in a cocaine smuggling trial.
“All my life I’ve been committed to advancing fairness and opportunity to the African American community,” Trump said. “We’ve had so many people with empty political rhetoric. We’re doing the opposite: we’re acting, not talking.”
The president also celebrated the strength of the American economy under his administration and the historic unemployment rates for black Americans.
“Perhaps our economy is the best criminal justice reform of all because when people can get a job earn a paycheck and find purpose in their work, and especially when they are coming out of prison, it’s really an incredible thing,” he said as the audience applauded.
Trump promised to keep fighting for the issue and said he will continue fighting for the black community as long as he is president.
“We’ve made our nation stronger than ever before, and I’m here to tell you we’re just getting started, and we’re just getting started for the African American community too,” he said.
The crowd shouted and cheered “four more years” as the president grinned and pumped his fist.