Dec 4, 3:51 PM EST

Clinton backs probes of chokehold, Ferguson deaths


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday the nation's criminal justice system is "out of balance" and she supports federal reviews of police-involved deaths of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

Clinton said the two cases, which have stirred a national conversation on race and law enforcement, show the need for federal funds to be used for best practices, "rather than weapons of war."

The former secretary of state said the families and communities deserved a "full and fair accounting" and the deaths had forced the nation to "grapple with some hard truths about race and justice in America." She noted that black men are more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes and sentenced to longer prison terms.

"We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance," Clinton said. "And I personally hope that these tragedies give us the opportunity to come together as a nation to find our balance again."

Clinton's remarks at a women's conference in Boston were the first time she's spoken about the two cases in the aftermath of findings by grand juries and racially charged protests around the nation. Civil rights leaders have criticized the grand jury decisions not to charge a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York and a separate decision not to charge a white officer who shot and killed 18-year-old unarmed black Michael Brown in Missouri.

The former first lady is the leading Democratic contender to succeed President Barack Obama should she seek the presidency again. Obama is the nation's first black president, and the two cases could shape how Clinton talks about civil rights and seeks to maintain support among African-American voters, a key Democratic constituency.

At the Massachusetts Conference for Women, Clinton expressed support for reviews by the Justice Department and Obama's recent announcement of a task force on policing.

The president is expected to sign an executive order to provide more transparency to federal programs providing military-style equipment to local police. Critics have questioned the use of body armor and armored vehicles by police to disperse demonstrations.

Clinton said federal funding to state and local law enforcement should be "used to bolster best practices rather than buy weapons of war that have no place in our streets or contribute to unnecessary force or arrests."

Clinton said there were examples of police departments able to maintain safety and reduce crime without using unnecessary force or lengthy incarceration. Many of the nation's communities are policed by "decent, honorable, brave police officers" who inspire trust and confidence, she said.

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