Bill Clinton’s rant against Black Lives Matter protesters in Philadelphia is a reflection of the multi-layered, textured tapestry that are American racism and white supremacy. It is as much about the content as it is about the history, tone, affect, and tenor of the words that came out of Clinton’s mouth, not once, but twice in two days. It is about the entitled attitude of the Clintons when it comes to the allegiance of the very people he was talking about. It isn’t about a defense of legacy, but about how that legacy is being presented and the vehemence with which a people is being demonized all over again, under the pretext of historical context. Watch:
A day later:
Some are calling this an apology. It isn’t. In many ways, it is even more insulting than Bill Clinton’s rant. Clinton deserves every bit of the push-back he is now receiving and so does his partner, not only for continuing to refuse to apologize for her “superpredator” comment, but for refusing to fall in line with present-day civil rights sensibilities and offer a full platform for racial justice that is closer to Senator Sanders’ than the few morsels she offers under the “criminal justice” portion of her website. Racial justice and criminal justice are hardly one and the same, or a subset of the other. But that is how the Clintons see the issue. That attitude is at the heart of the thing we call “white supremacy.”
The Clintons have been given far too much credit for their “affinity” for issues that affect the Black community and not enough credit for being responsible for much of the misery that goes on to this very day. So, I take issue with many of the preliminary statements made by Charles M. Blow in this video:
I too was around in the 90’s, on the white side of my native Washington, D.C., working in and around Congress. I remember the hysteria. I remember the feelings at the time. I remember the zeal with which Blacks of a certain age and demographic background were being demonized, condemned by virtue of their age and zip codes, without regard for the circumstances under which they were made to live; expected to miraculously lift themselves out of poverty all the while, very cruelly, the safety net was being pulled out from under them.
I also remember my mayor, Marion Barry, desperately pleading for funding so he could provide jobs to impoverished youth in DC and doing the best he could with the few resources he had, making sure there were seasonal jobs, recreational programs, housing programs in place to try and mitigate what was going on.
I reject the notion that the crime bill was a culmination of violence, coupled with contemporaneous wrong-headed beliefs and bad research. There were plenty of people who rose in opposition to what was being proposed and their voices weren’t just drowned out, they were squashed. Those in the leadership, beginning with Bill Clinton, knew exactly what they were doing. Oh, and to inject a “Bernie Sanders voted for it,” is totally disingenuous when we have Sanders’ objections to the 1994 Crime Bill on the record and on video.
Had Sanders not warned, back in 1994, what the consequences of the bill would be, it would be one thing to lump him in with the Clintons. But he did warn and his warning did become a reality. It is completely cynical to now make him “one of them” when we know that he voted with the majority in Congress because the Violence Against Women Act, which he sponsored, was a part of that bill. He’s explained that over and over again, apparently to no avail. He’s also expressed his regret many times and I guess, much like everything he’s tried to do in civil rights, it just doesn’t count.
I reject the idea that it is thanks to Bill Clinton that the crack wars were won, in part or in whole. Here are some snippets from a couple of fact-checking articles:
“Because of that bill, we had a 25-year low in crime, a 33-year low in the murder rate, and listen to this,” Clinton responded Thursday, “because of that and the background check law, a 46-year low in the deaths of people of gun violence. And how do you think those lives were, that mattered? Whose lives were saved, that mattered?
The former president continued defending the bill, asking the protesters whether they were really defending criminals.
“I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out into the street to murder other African American children,” he told the protesters. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens — [Hillary Clinton] didn’t.””
But experts say the decline in crime during Clinton’s time in the White House can’t all be attributed to the 1994 crime bill.
Crime rates nationally began to drop just before the passage of the crime bill, in 1992. Multiple academic reports on the topic begin with 1991 to trace when recorded incidents began to slip.
There are several factors, researchers find, that could have caused this fall in crime. In fact, researchers don’t entirely agree on which factors had the greatest impact. Our analysis can find this consensus: the drop cannot be solely attributed to the crime bill, and the size of the crime bill’s contribution, while arguable, may not be higher than a third, according to more favorable analyses, if not marginal overall, per more conservative accounts.
For starters, here are some other debated but commonly acknowledged factors. Through 1991 to 1993, the ‘90s boom began, creating more job opportunities in the low-wage sector. The impact of the the crack epidemic entering its death knell has also been cited. The crime bill created 100,000 new jobs for cops, but the number of police officers in the U.S. rose by 50,000 to 60,000 per capita over the decade, a 14 percent increase.”
The Guardian’s Mona Chalabi:
“‘A 33-year low in the murder rate’
Clinton also credited the bill with lowering murder rates, specifically. Here again, there’s a similar obfuscation of statistics. In 1995, the murder rate was 8.2 per 100,000 US inhabitants, the lowest level since 1985 and not the 33-year low Clinton claimed.
These statistics vary little once you account for race. In 1995, 31.2 out of every 100,000 black Americans was a homicide victim – the lowest level since 1987 but still almost seven times higher than the white victimization rate. Those who are keen to focus on the issue of crime committed by African Americans against other African Americans should keep in mind that victims and offenders usually know each other, making intra-racial violent crime a general trend in the US. Black-on-black crime accounts for a similar percentage of all homicides as white-on-white crime.
‘The largest drop in African American poverty in history’
In 1996, Bill Clinton signed into law a contested welfare reform bill. Much like Clinton’s other claims on Thursday, his defense of it has some support. During Clinton’s presidency (1993-2001), black poverty rates did fall to historic lows. By 2000, the percentage of black Americans living in poverty had fallen to 22.5%, the lowest level since 1974. However, like the crime statistics mentioned above, the downward trend began in 1991, and the effect of the law was not so clear cut as to work for the general good of all African Americans. Single mothers benefited from the reform bill, for instance, but the number of Americans living in extreme poverty – a minority within the group living in poverty – more than doubled from 1996 to 2013.”
Chalabi’s Guardian article contains a wealth of data and charts, and reminds us not only of the historical progressions that led to the Crime and Welfare legislations, but also what has ensued.
The crime bill laid the foundation for what would become the militarization of police and mass-incarceration. Without the crime bill and a massive increase in police throughout the nation, the militarization that was to come would have been pointless. Without the crime bill, police unions and the police forces they represent, would not have been able to amass such power as to be able to dictate terms like extra-constitutional bills of rights in 14 states (and counting) that endow anyone with a badge with the right not to answer any questions after killing a citizen while on duty, no matter the circumstance. Over ten thousand people are thought to have been killed by police since the end of the 1990’s.
Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform bill laid the foundation for what is now massive poverty not only among the African American population, but also among whites who fell out of the middle class at the start of the Great Recession and have yet to recover in a low-wage economy. Clinton’s welfare reform bill, among many other things, set a timer on the length of time help is given to those who qualify, and sets conditions that this new economy makes it impossible to meet. Welfare is tied to work. For millions, there just isn’t sustaining work, and since the beginning of 2016, over one million people have been taken off SNAP rolls with the expiration of the Great Recession exceptions to Clinton’s welfare law.
Sure, Clinton could not have foreseen the exact consequences of his actions on crime. But did he really put any thought into the racial component in the bill? His angry, unrepentant, entitled attitude tells us that he didn’t and still doesn’t care to, if his precious legacy is to be diminished in any way. Did Bill Clinton give any thought, when it came to tying welfare to jobs, to the possibility there might ever come a time when there are no jobs or jobs pay so little, that his policy might actually hurt, rather than help?
Well, such a time has arrived and neither Clinton has stepped up to the plate and taken ownership of this mistake. In fact, when Hillary Clinton talks about jobs and the safety net, she addresses the middle class, and not those who have fallen out of it. She has yet to acknowledge the existence of a new permanent underclass in America, that some call the “precariat.” She has yet to acknowledge the difficulties that young college graduates face when starting new careers in general, or African American graduates in particular. She never once has referred to the long-term unemployed, those who, as a result of the changes in employment patterns since the Great Recession, have been the victims of ageism, the millions of seniors who have had to go back to work to supplement meager retirement, or wages so low as to make multi-generational living a norm in an economy that isn’t working for the average American .
That said, every once in a while, when convenient, the Clintons will go off-message:
“We’ve finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us.”
“If you believe we can all rise together, if you believe we’ve finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us and the seven years before that when we were practicing trickle-down economics and no regulation in Washington, which is what caused the crash, then you should vote for her,”
How odd, after months of telling us that Hillary represents the succession to President Obama!
My biggest problem with both Clintons is their regular exercise of spotty moral judgment and unwillingness to take responsibility, post-facto. This past year, the media has regaled us with stories of both Clintons’ repentance when it comes to mass-incarceration. Yet, we have video after video of evidence to the fact that not only are the Clintons unrepentant, they are unwilling to change the very things that have been huge contributors to the police state and inequality.
Morality dictates that the interests and welfare of a nation’s citizens come before any president’s legacy and not only when that welfare and the legacy happen to coincide.
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