Blacks and Hispanics play a key role in the Nevada and South Carolina primaries, the next battlefields for the candidates. While both Democrat hopefuls say they'll target "systemic racism," their ideas differ.
In Thursday evening's debate, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders attempted to drum up crucial support from black and Hispanic voters ahead of primaries in Nevada and South Carolina, where the minority vote plays a crucial role.
Both presidential candidates largely agreed that the US needed to tackle institutional racism and improve minorities' standard of living.
Sanders said reforming the US' "broken criminal justice system" was crucial to enacting social justice.
"At the end of my first term, we will not have more people in jail than any other country," Sanders said, referring to the country's incarceration rate, which is the highest in the world, according to the International Center for Prison Studies.
"We are fighting for every vote that we can get from women, from men, straight, gay, African-American, Latinos, Asian-Americans," said Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist.
Tackling income equality
In early February, Sanders told DW that he wanted people in the US to have greater economic rights.
"I want an America which does not have massive levels of income inequality and wealth inequality," Sanders told DW, referring to an ever-widening income distribution gap that significantly affects minorities.
'Jobs, education, housing'
Clinton also lashed out at what she described as "systemic racism" in education, housing and employment.
"When we talk about criminal justice reform, we also have to talk about jobs, education, housing and other ways of helping communities of color," Clinton noted.
Minority voters play a vital role in the upcoming primaries compared to the nearly all-white states of Iowa and New Hampshire, with Hispanics comprising 27.8 percent of Nevada's population and blacks making up the same percentage of the population in South Carolina.
Those figures are significantly higher than the national average of 13.2 percent and 17.4 percent for blacks and Hispanics respectively.
The US criminal justice system has been the focus of a larger debate on institutional racism following high-profile incidents in which unarmed black men were shot and killed by white police in Ferguson, New York and elsewhere across the country, sparking mass protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Nevada's primary takes place on February 20, exactly a week ahead of the contest in South Carolina.
ls/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)