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Candidates Discuss Race And Cities At Urban League

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Today is the last day of the National Urban League's annual convention. Several presidential candidates have taken the podium during the civil rights organization's three-day conference. And we're joined now by Marc Morial, former mayor of New Orleans who, of course, is now president of the Urban League. He joins us from Fort Lauderdale. Mr. Morial, thanks so much for being with us.

MARC MORIAL: Thanks, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So alphabetically, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders, who'd you like?

MORIAL: You know, I liked the fact that they all came. The important thing for the Urban League was that each of these five candidates accepted our invitation, came, and I think offered a serious perspective from their own point of view. They came in here. They talked about race. They talked about economics. They talked about the criminal justice system. They talked about cities. These issues don't get discussed on the main stage in many, many political debates and discussions. And so why we wanted them here, so they could talk about equality, talk about opportunity, develop those ideas in a way that will not, and - or, I should say, historically has not happened in this campaign up until this point.

SIMON: Mr. Morial, another unarmed black man was killed by an officer in Cincinnati. I wonder if you have some ideas you want to bring to our attention about how to try to repair a shattered relationship between black citizens and police.

MORIAL: It's an American tragedy of untold proportions, particularly as we've seen it play out in the last two years. Our ten-point justice plan recommended that body cameras and dash cameras be mandatory for all law enforcement all the way across the country. But we also believe that more must be done when it comes to police officer hiring, police officer training, and police officer accountability. The community wants to and must trust its police if they're going to be allies is in what we all want, and that is safer communities.

SIMON: I wonder if that raises this question. As you know, the homicide rate in recent weeks has been soaring in Baltimore. And there's some people there who contend that one of the factors may be that since Freddie Gray and the national outrage over his death, the police have been less aggressive on the street, which have let some bad characters run free.

MORIAL: You know, I've heard that argument, but here's the point. It's not only in Baltimore that there's an epidemic of violence or a spike in violence. It's also in Chicago. It's also in New Orleans. It's in cities that have not had high-profile incidents like Baltimore. It's being driven by illegal narcotics, easy access to guns, too much joblessness and hopelessness in these communities. It's being driven by the fact that in many instances the system to provide people with drug treatment has completely collapsed. So I don't think it's an accurate characterization. I think that it is a characterization being used by those who somehow believe that some sort of overly aggressive policing is the way to stop crime. If overly aggressive policing is the way to stop crimes, then great cities that have tried overly aggressive policing would be the safest cities in America. But they're not.

SIMON: In another direction, we'll ask you this as a former mayor, as much as the head of the Urban League. Will a $15 minimum wage cost some people entry-level jobs?

MORIAL: I don't think it'll cost people entry-level jobs. It would put some pressure on probably pricing for products that are sold. But I think the benefits outweigh the cost. People who earn, if you will, minimum wages in this country today are people who spend the greatest proportion of their income on the necessities of life. They'll spend it on food. They'll spend it on clothing. They'll spend it on children. They'll spend it on things that indeed continue to regenerate economic activity. I believe that living wages are also important to provide the dignity that should go along with work in this country.

SIMON: Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, thanks so much for joining us.

MORIAL: Thank you. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.