COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Day three of the forum hosted by Benedict College wrapped up Sunday afternoon after three Democratic candidates running for president took the stage.
Since Friday, President Donald Trump, along with ten democratic presidential hopefuls spoke on the topic of criminal justice reform.
A notable change from the rest of the weekend, media was allowed inside the auditorium where the forum was taking place.
Students were able to engage candidates by asking questions.
When Secretary Julian Castro took the stage, a student asked, “What would you do as the next president to support successful reentry for youth?”
”Number one if they got tangled up in the criminal justice system as a young person we would seal those records If they were part of the juvenile justice system. So they don’t have to carry that burden. And they can go forward in their life better able to get a job to get housing to get other opportunities without that,” Castro said. “I would also establish that network of second chance centers so they know that there are people there to connect with immediately they don’t have to guess, they don’t have to wonder, they have one place immediately where they can go where people will treat them with respect, with dignity and make sure that they get the resources that they need.”
Questions continued from students throughout the afternoon.
During Senator Elizabeth Warren’s time on stage, one student said, “As an African male, in these United States, I drive down the streets and see a police officer and I automatically get nervous.”
That student went on to ask for advice when being pulled over or stopped by a police officer.
The room fell silent, and Senator Elizabeth Warren responded saying in part, “I’m sorry that that’s the talk that you’re asking about. I think the way the talk starts is by saying this is not your fault. This is the fault of discrimination.”
Warren went on to say, “I say you gotta know our rights, you gotta know how to protect yourself, you gotta know about what you don’t volunteer with what you don’t let people do. I want to make sure you always know the rights. The third part of the conversation with my child would help me change this. Help us make a better criminal justice system, but more importantly help us make a better America.”
The same question was also asked in Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s time on stage by another Benedict student.
“The answer to that would be careful, be respectful, follow the instructions that are given to you,” Gabbard said. “From both sides recognizing while you may have done nothing wrong that law enforcement officer may have done nothing wrong, but they’re both coming from different cultures and experiences that require that mutual understanding to be able to build that bridge.”
Students who attended said overall, it was a way for them to be more informed before voting.
At the end of the forum, the Democratic co-chair for the 2020 Bipartisan Justice Center said they extended the deadline for students to vote in the straw poll to Friday, November 11th.
That poll is open for all South Carolina HBCU students.
Benedict College President Dr. Rosyln Artis said earlier in the week that she hoped the event could be a positive experience.
Despite the controversy surrounding the President and some of the candidates threatening to withdraw from the forum - she says she's proud of the way things were handled.
“I think that the fundamental premise was to ensure open access to our students to a bipartisan forum, to be able to hear the position of candidates across the aisle regardless of their particular political persuasion, I think the noise surrounding the presidents choosing to make an official visit here really drowned out the fundamental premise of the weekend and that was voter empowerment, voter engagement, and voter education,” Artis said. “Despite some of the noise, that was perpetrated around us, I think Benedict stood firm, and our students showed well, and I’m extremely proud.”
In response to the event, the South Carolina Republican Party Chairman released a statement Saturday saying:
“President Trump and his administration have shown themselves to be leaders when it comes to fighting for the African American community. From passing historic criminal justice reforms, to creating the lowest unemployment rate ever for African Americans, it’s clear that President Trump is the only 2020 candidate with a real record to highlight. We look forward to helping the president tout his successes and win in 2020, so that even more progress can be made for the people of South Carolina.”