Under Fire, Elizabeth Warren Clarifies Her Remarks on the “Racist” Criminal Justice System

Critics now include Gov. Charlie Baker.

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Conservative critics of Elizabeth Warren have gotten a lot of mileage out of comments she made this month about what she called “the hard truth” about inequality in sentencing and other issues in the criminal justice system. “It’s racist,” she said at an August 4 conference for liberal activists in New Orleans, “front to back.”

Her words set off a firestorm, with outrage percolating at both the local level, including stern words from Massachusetts police chiefs, and in the national media. Fox News, of course, ate it up, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions weighed in (How this managed not to get a presidential tweet is a mystery). The latest big name to critique her remarks was Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been working to bolster his pro-cop bona fides and told the Herald that police “absolutely feel like they’ve been on the wrong end of a lot of the rhetoric that’s gone on in this country for quite a while” and that there’s “a better way to talk about this stuff.”

Under pressure, Warren on Saturday sought to clarify her remarks, saying in a statement, “I spoke about an entire system — not individuals — and will continue to work on reforms to make the criminal justice system fairer,” and adding that she spoke with that she had spoken with Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson, who described her words as a slap in the face, to try to clear the air. According to the Globe, she also addressed the controversy in a town hall meeting, saying  there were “a lot of good people” in law enforcement “who get up every day and try to make this a more just, a more fair, more responsive system.”

Don’t expect her to shy away from addressing the very real inequities of the system, but how she can do that without angering Republicans ready to pounce on the likely 2020 contender at the slightest move remains to be seen.