We find ourselves again pushing back against simplistic defenses of the Clintons on race. It should be painfully obvious by now that The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was a miserable failure. It has destroyed lives and communities. It was a hatchet for a problem that required a scalpel. The causes of violent crime are nearly universal. The evidence is clear and overwhelming. Young people left with limited opportunities in education and jobs in profound wealth inequality will turn to crime, often violent crime. It happens in the favelas of Rio, the streets of Belfast, the tower blocks of London, the ghetto suburbs of Paris & Brussels, downtown Hong Kong & the townships of South Africa. Black people in America are not broken. We suffer from economic deprivation caused by crappy policy decisions.
A rudimentary Google search yielded an article from the time. While it is true that many People of Color were living in fear in rough neighborhoods, it is not true that everyone was behind the draconian measures that the crime bill proposed. The Congressional Black Caucus wanted safeguards to assure that the law would not treat the Black community unfairly. Rev. Jesse Jackson even held a conference on the on January 7th, 1994.
“While they agreed that the problem was rapidly spinning out of control, they condemned the solution most often offered to deal with it: stiffer prison sentences and more jail cells. ‘It’s an Uphill Struggle'”
This quote alone dispels the “we had no idea” myth. The Clintons were warned over and over again. They chose this path. The Democratic Leader Council and the Administration wanted the party to be more moderate – a move to the right. Choosing this path concerning crime was about getting their moderate bonafides. The center-left Progressives had no champion in the Democratic White House. Please use the link above and read the article for yourself.
Even after seeing that they were dead wrong on the solutions to violent crime, they exacerbated the situation with The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) aka Welfare Reform. This bill literally took food out of hungry mouths. The outcome was an even more desperate cohort of young people to feed to the ‘retribution machine’ that was disguised at crime prevention.
Bernie Was Right
Bernie Sanders pleaded on the floor of Congress for jobs and education before the bill was signed. After the bill was signed he sat with the CBC, the only White person in Congress to do so, on a panel to discuss the impacts. Though he voted for the bill because of the Violence Against Women Act & Assault Weapons ban. His fight against poverty & inequality Never wavered. “Jobs Not Jails” was the call to action. It was unheeded in Congress and the White House.
The Clintons get no passes here. They need to apologize and push for a panel to investigate the level of damage done to communities of color and provide guidelines for remedies. That is the bare minimum.
To all the people defending them: Stop.