Sanders touts criminal justice reform plan at black SC college
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Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump preps conspiracy theory to explain faltering economy Sanders doubles down on 'Medicare For All' defense: 'We have not changed one word' Sanders, Warren back major shift to fight drug overdoses MORE (I-Vt.) on Saturday continued his push to try and win over southern black voters for his grassroots presidential campaign, talking forcefully about criminal justice reform, police brutality and the soaring unemployment rate for young black adults.

Speaking at Benedict College, an historically black College in Columbia, S.C., Sanders took the stage following a passionate endorsement from prominent academic Cornel West.

Sanders, West said, “represents the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

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“In the name of John Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme,’ you’ve got to get in on the love train,” West implored the audience. “That’s what the Bernie Sanders campaign is.”

Over nearly an hour of remarks, Sanders hit on many of his frequent themes — income inequality, breaking up the banks, campaign finance reform, reducing college tuition, expanding healthcare.

But the presidential hopeful lingered on, and repeatedly returned to, issues of racism and racial inequality.

“When I talk about racism … I am talking about Sandra Bland,” Sanders said, referencing the Chicago woman who was found hanged in a Texas police cell after being arrested for a minor traffic violation.

Sanders ticked off several other names — Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, “and too many others who died at the hands of police officers, or in police custody,” he said as the audience rose to its feet.

“If anybody thinks that this phenomenon … is something new, you are very, very mistaken,” Sanders continued, wiping his brow. “It has gone on for a very, very long time.”

“Like any other public official, if a police officer breaks the law, that police officer must be held accountable,” he added, to another standing ovation.

Sanders promoted his prison reform work in Congress, citing a bill he’s backing that would end government contracts for privately run prison within two years.

“Thank you, thank you,” one man yelled from the audience.

Sanders also said he’s talking to House lawmakers about unveiling a broad criminal justice reform bill that would likely reform mandatory minimum sentencing and potentially restructure prison rehabilitation programs.

“I’m going to bore you with facts; I’m not great at jokes. Alright? So let’s get some truth out there,” he said, before citing a statistic that in 2009, 69 percent of black male high school dropouts ended up in jail.

That’s up from 15 percent in 1979, Sanders said.

“Now it seems to me, given that reality, that tragic reality, it makes a lot more sense for us just to invest in jobs and education rather than jails and incarceration,” he concluded.

Sanders has been working in recent weeks to build support within the African-American community, touting his long history of civil rights activism.

While the liberal stalwart has polled well in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, even leading perceived Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in some polls, Sanders has struggled to make inroads in Southern states, such as South Carolina, that have large numbers of black voters.

Despite rallies around the country that have been drawing swelling crowds, Sanders’ audiences have skewed heavily white.

Members of the Black Lives Matter movement even hijacked a Sanders rally in August and pressed the Vermont lawmaker to prioritize ending institutional racism.