News & Politics

'We Were All Brainwashed': Ben & Jerry's Co-Founder Says 'Justice for All' in Pledge Is 'a Lie'

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, hand out ice cream samples in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Ben Cohen, co-founder of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand, said he was “brainwashed” as a student and has realized that the “justice for all” portion of the Pledge of Allegiance is “a lie.”

Cohen and co-founder Jerry Greenfield revealed Ben & Jerry’s new Justice ReMix’d ice cream flavor on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The company describes the favor as “cinnamon and chocolate ice creams with gobs of cinnamon bun dough and spicy fudge brownies.” The company said part of the proceeds generated from the new flavor will go to the Advancement Project National Office, which works on criminal justice reform issues.

“Innocent until proven guilty. Fairness. Justice. Those are the values that guide our legal system, right? Well, maybe for some, but definitely not for all. America locks people up at a higher rate than any other country on earth — and bias is baked right in,” Ben & Jerry’s website reads. “If you’re a person of color or struggling to make ends meet, you’re much more likely to be sent to prison — for a longer period of time — than a white person convicted of the same crime.”

Cohen said cash bail and the “school-to-prison pipeline” are the company’s main concerns with the nation’s criminal justice system.

“I went to school. I put my hand over my heart and I repeated the words ‘and justice for all, and justice for all, and justice for all.’ And I believed it and I was proud of the country I was a part of that, had those values and now I’m grown up and I know it was a lie. I was brainwashed and now I’m pissed off. I’m burned up and I’m outraged. We were all brainwashed,” Cohen said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“And that’s why as more and more of us become woke to the hypocrisy. Compassion leads us to speak out and to write those wrongs. This country that has treated me so well has treated many of my fellow countrymen so poorly. True patriotism is helping our country to match its deeds with its words — to walk the talk,” he added.

Last year, President Trump signed the First Step Act to reform the federal prison system. Cohen applauded the legislation “as a good first step” but said more needs to be done. Greenfield said Ben & Jerry’s is open to working with the Trump administration on criminal justice reform.

“I think anybody who is actually going to take action and not just words is welcome to do it and I would love to have President Trump’s help,” Greenfield said.

Cohen and Greenfield, who recently appeared at a presidential campaign rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), were asked if they think Sanders would be the best candidate to handle criminal justice reform.

“Ben & Jerry’s does not take stands on political candidates or electoral [candidates] so I can’t really talk about that,” Cohen replied.

Cohen was asked about the role he sees churches playing in criminal justice reform advocacy.

“This is about morals and this is about what we believe in as people and it’s about fairness and justice and my understanding is that’s what Jesus was about a lot and what’s going on now is people who don’t have money, people who are living in poverty are getting screwed and getting thrown into a criminal justice system that does not treat people fairly,” he replied.

Follow Nicholas Ballasy on Twitter @NicholasBallasy