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In one of two campaign stops on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the El Pollo Feliz restaurant in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. (Photo: Chicago Tribune)

Sanders Blasts US Mass Incarceration as 'International Embarrassment'

In Chicago appearances, Sanders also distances himself from embattled Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Deirdre Fulton

In a speech that included an overt jab at embattled Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders decried the U.S. incarceration rate as an "international embarrassment" and said he considers "reforming our broken criminal justice system one of the most important things that a president of the United States can do."

During his quick stop on Chicago's west side, Sanders outlined his plan for criminal justice reform, a platform that includes ending for-profit prisons, removing marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances, eliminating the death penalty, and ending mandatory minimum sentencing.

He described the disproportionately high rate of incarceration for black males and the criminalization of school-aged black Americans a "tragedy."

"What a destruction of an entire generation," Sanders said to a room of supporters at the Village Leadership Academy. He was joined on stage by high-profile progressive activists Cornel West, Jim Hightower, Mike Render (aka Killer Mike), and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

He also called for "police departments to look like their community, not like occupying forces." Police accountability is a hot-button issue across the country and perhaps especially in Chicago right now, where Emanuel and other top city officials have been under fire for their mishandling of the police-shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald along with broader systemic racial and socioeconomic issues.

When asked about Emanuel by a reporter at the event, Sanders responded: "If the question is do I want or need Rahm Emanuel’s support for president, with all due respect for the mayor, no I don't."

Emanuel is a former senior adviser to Sanders' rival Hillary Clinton and was White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama. A march and rally calling for his resignation, along with that of Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez, is planned for Christmas Eve.

According to CBS Chicago, Sanders met earlier in the day with leaders in the local Black and Latino communities, including Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners who lost to Emanuel in a runoff for Chicago mayor in April, at a private invite only event.

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