Liberal, moderate divide on display in Democratic debate

A protester is removed Thursday after interrupting a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. 

Racism is a threat to the fabric of the country, Democratic presidential candidates suggested Thursday at a debate in Houston.

The discussion on race took a personal turn when former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who is Latino, said the gunman who massacred 22 in El Paso, Texas, last month came to that city to kill "people who look like me."

El Paso is candidate Beto O'Rourke's hometown. He described racism as "endemic in America."

"It is foundational," the former congressman said, pointing to the fact that this year is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in America. He pledged his support for a House bill that would set up a slavery reparations commission.

The third Democratic debate took place at Texas Southern University, a historically black college founded in 1947 when public colleges and universities were still segregated.

O'Rourke, Castro and the other eight White House hopefuls on stage promised to fight racists, close the racial wealth gap between black and white households, reform the criminal justice system and reduce the maternal mortality rate for black women.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg equated his "Douglass plan" for African American economic development with the U.S. effort to rebuild Europe after World War II.

Perhaps the most uncomfortable moments on race came when California Sen. Kamala Harris and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar were asked by moderator Linsey Davis why they didn't do more to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system.

Harris defended her record of pushing for body cameras for police officers, diverting people arrested on minor charges away from jail and other actions.

"Was I able to get enough done? Absolutely not," said Harris, who announced a package of criminal justice reforms this week, including ending cash bail and eliminating the death penalty.

Just as Harris chided former Vice President Joe Biden on his previous opposition to school busing during the first debate in Miami, Davis, the moderator, challenged him on his past remarks about correcting historic racism in America.

Biden awkwardly pivoted from his response to that question by going into the civil strife in Venezuela.

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