From Criminal Justice Reform To Protecting The Democracy, Mondaire Jones Wants To Bring ‘Big Structural Changes’ To Congress
Jones, who is running in New York’s 17th District, says fighting systemic racism and hyperpartisanship are top priorities.
In 2008, the chief of the Palo Alto Police Department acknowledged she had instructed officers to stop Black men in response to a string of robberies in the area. Mondaire Jones, who was a senior at Stanford University at the time, organized a group of Black students to call for her resignation and reforms within the department that would stop racial profiling. It was the beginning of what Jones, who is running for Congress in New York’s 17th District, calls his “life’s work” of fighting for criminal justice reform.
“There are two primary problems with our criminal legal system and one is systemic racism, and the other is an overreliance on policing as a means to obtain public safety,” he told The Appeal.
Jones said he wants the government to invest in alternatives to incarceration, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, abolish private prisons and the federal death penalty, and legalize cannabis. He also wants to make federal funds for local municipalities conditional on independent procedures for investigating killings at the hands of police.
Jones was raised in Spring Valley, New York, in Rockland County, which is part of the congressional district he would represent if he wins the election. His district also includes parts of Westchester County. He’ll be vying against four other candidates for the seat of longtime Representative Nita Lowey, who is retiring after 32 years. If elected, he would be one of the first gay Black men in Congress in a year in which more than 500 LGBTQ candidates are running for office. (Ritchie Torres, another gay Black candidate, is running for New York’s 15th Congressional District.)
Along with criminal justice reform, Jones said he is prioritizing changes to protect the country from attacks on democracy. Among these, he’s been a strong supporter for expanding the Supreme Court. He advocated for expansion even before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and said that it’s vital to achieving the reforms that former Vice President Joe Biden hopes to achieve if he becomes president.
“To ensure that legislation has permanence, we must unrig the Supreme Court and ensure that we no longer have a hyperpartisan majority that is hostile to Congress,” Jones said. He added that Chief Justice John Roberts’s role has been to “systematically undermine our democratic institutions,” referring to the court’s 2013 ruling that invalidated part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protected voters from discrimination.
Jones thinks that the Court expansion should be included in the For the People Act, a bill that was passed by the House last year and awaits Senate action that would strengthen voting rights and ethics rules, and limit gerrymandering. He said he also plans to introduce legislation to expand the court and is “looking forward to being the leading voice on this issue in the House of Representatives.”
Jones, who was endorsed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, is also a supporter of the Green New Deal. The legislation, introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts, sets targets for cutting carbon emissions while also creating jobs. Jones said he is committed to tackling the climate crisis and wants to introduce high-speed rail in Rockland County that would get residents to New York City in one ride, as opposed to driving or taking the bus.
“Nothing else matters if we don’t have a planet to inhabit and we have to start acting like that,” Jones said.
Jones is likely to emerge from Election Day victorious. His predecessor, Lowey, handily captured the district’s Democratic vote for more than three decades. And if he does take office in January, Jones is looking forward to helping shape the country into one that he’s always envisioned.
“It is increasingly clear that Joe Biden will win in November,” Jones said. “And that we will take back the U.S. Senate and maintain our majority in the House, so we should really be thinking in earnest how exactly we’re going to roll up our sleeves and do the unprecedented work of enacting big structural changes.”