NEW YORK CITY — Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton said Eric Garner was "choked to death" by police during her first major policy speech at Columbia University where she called for a dramatic shift in the way the nation's criminal justice system treats black men.
"We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America," she said during a speech Wednesday at the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum.
"There is something profoundly wrong when African-American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts."
Clinton cited recent incidents of unarmed black men around the country being killed by police such as Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Garner, who she said was "choked to death after being stopped for selling cigarettes on the streets of our city," in Staten Island.
"Yet again the family of a young black man is grieving a life cut short. Yet again the streets of an American city are marred by violence," Clinton said, referring to the recent riots in Baltimore over Gray's death.
"From Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable."
The medical examiner ruled that a police chokehold led to Garner's death. But a grand jury declined to indict the officer who placed the chokehold on Garner, who repeatedly said he couldn't breathe.
Union officials vehemently denied that Garner was put in a chokehold, blasting the ME's office for using the term, which they said was not medical.
They also said that Garner, who suffered from health problems, should not have resisted arrest.
Among the reforms Clinton called for are an end to mass incarceration, police body cameras for every police department in the country, community policing and tackling income inequality.
She also called for the de-militarization of police departments around the country who increasingly use federal funds to buy military grade equipment for use in their policing efforts.
Clinton said the trend placed "weapons of war" in the hands of police departments "that have no place on our streets."
The presidential hopeful also said that mass incarceration must also end. The United States has only 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prisoners.
"It's time to end the era of mass incarceration. We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe," she said.
Clinton said other necessary reforms include proper treatment for the mentally ill and drug addicted who make up an increasingly larger percentage of the prison population, sentencing reform so people with low level offenses do not face long prison terms, and tackling income inequality, which is often at the root of the problem for many people caught in the criminal justice system.
Clinton's speech in New York City comes after Mayor Bill de Blasio withheld his endorsement of Clinton, for whom he formerly worked as the campaign manager of her 2000 Senate race, until he heard what he called a progressive vision from her.
Many of the issues around the criminal justice system that Clinton addressed and the solutions she provided are similar to proposals de Blasio has made around policing in New York City.
The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Clinton's speech.
Another left-leaning city politician who also declined to immediately endorse Clinton, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, praised the speech.
"Secretary Clinton today laid out the type of progressive vision on criminal justice reforms the City Council is fighting for in New York," said Mark-Viverito who still declined to endorse Clinton but said she was looking forward to hearing more on the issue.