PHILADELPHIA — Grammy Award-winning R&B singer Alicia Keys doesn’t have any plans to send Donald Trump a Valentine’s Day card — but she might consider sending him a little “love infusion.”
Keys was in the City of Brotherly Love on Monday night for a panel at Politico Hub, a programming showcase led by Politico’s reporters and editors, featuring daily newsmaker interviews, policy luncheons on the economy and technology and energy and live streaming and analysis of the convention.
The singer was on hand for an issue that she has championed for years — criminal justice reform, aimed at addressing the high incarceration rate, particularly for African-Americans.
As founder of the “We Are Here,” movement, she is spearheading an effort focused on ending the “injustice of poverty, oppression and hopelessness” and she has been pressing Congressional leaders to pass reform legislation.
In February, Keys sent a video to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., asking him to pass federal legislation on sentencing reform to eliminate mandatory sentencing, among other things, and to “be her Valentine.”
“What happened was, we asked to bring the issue to a vote and when it didn’t happen by February, we asked again. This time because it was Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I decided that I had to do a video that asked Paul Ryan to be my Valentine. [And if] in fact, if he brought it to the floor then he would be my Valentine.”
Ryan responded and vowed to bring the legislation to the floor this fall.
“Tens of thousands of people sent in Valentines to him showing their support, showing how much the American people want this reform. He in fact spoke up then and said he was going bring it to the floor in September and I’m not going away,” Keys declared.
Luiza Savage, editorial director of events at Politico who moderated a panel on Justice in America, asked Keys if she planned to send one to Trump.
“I didn’t plan on it,” Keys said somewhat wryly. “Do you suggest I do? Because maybe some love infusion could be the answer.”
Keys also dismissed Trump as the “law and order” candidate.
“I feel that crime has been decreasing year after year. It’s not this country that he is describing. I feel that much of his campaign has been blowing a dog whistle,” Keys said.
Hillary Clinton has also come under criticism for comments she made in 1998, referring to “super predators” in inner cities. She and her husband, former President Bill Clinton supported policies that had a disproportionately adverse effect on African-Americans. Clinton apologized for her comments at a campaign event in February after an activist confronted her.
“It’s obvious that was a mistake,” Keys said of Clinton’s remarks. “It’s a big mistake. But if we can admit to our mistake, that is the beginning. The question is not only admitting to the mistake, but what are we go to do about it. That’s what I want to hear from her.”
In a video from the movement, Keys is heard saying: “We as a country we sell ourselves as the land of the free, except that we have more people in jail than the whole western world combined.”
She goes on to say that the costs are expensive — between $30,000 and $100,000 to keep one person in jail.
“Currently, there are 1.1 million fathers in prison. Is this who we are now? Is this who we want to be?”
She said she is not suggesting releasing murderers and violent criminals on the streets but is instead asking for “compassion.”
Keys said she has seen violence in the justice system on a personal level. She visited Baltimore, calling it a “pretty devastated city.”
“We talk about all the reforming that has happened in all of the countries all over the world and here in our own backyard, it’s not necessarily any better,” she said. “I was able to speak to a lot of mothers there who lost their sons — sons who were in prison — and who feared for their sons [leaving the house] because they thought they would never see them again.”
Keys, who has two young sons herself, said she is looking for a world where she does not have to tell her boys “the five things you must absolutely not do when stopped by law enforcement.”
“It is devastating. It is horrible. It is inhumane. It’s not the country that we want to continue to build. That’s why I’m here. That’s what moves me and continues to move me,” she said. “I’m not going away.”
With that, Keys said she would let her piano be her voice and launched into a stirring and powerful rendition of a song titled “Hallelujah” that moved many packed into the cramped room at the intimate gathering.
“I feel like we are at such a critical time for so many things. It is a major tipping point. It is time for us to decide too many things. Are we going to go backward or are we going to go forward, right? We don’t have any other choice,” Keys concluded.