Attention Clintons: Black People Are On To You

By now you’ve probably seen that Hillary (and Bill) Clinton are having a problem with Black people.  After years of being touted as the great savior of Black people, the Clintons are being forced to confront what their past words and legislation has done to Black communities.

Former President Clinton got into a pretty heated discussion with Black Lives Matters protesters last week.  During this encounter he was challenged for the role that his administration played in the decimation of Black communities around the country.  The Clintons have long maintained their love of all things Black: music, food, style, etc.  However, now their love of Black people is being called into question.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article that details a report about the Clintons’ now infamous crime bill, and ultimately their stance on crime.  The article is a long missive about how the crime bill wasn’t as bad as we all think it was.  It’s a blatant defense of Bill (and Hillary) and their checkered relationship with the Black community.

Still not Black. Regardless of what Arsenio says.
Still not Black. Regardless of what Arsenio says.

This report misses the point, almost on purpose. True, the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act had relatively little effect on crime rates. Violent crime began to decline nearly two decades before the bill was signed into law.  Mass incarceration was also on the rise before the passage of the bill, although in the years directly following the passage of the bill there was a sharp increase in the number of bodies locked behind bars.

What it did, and there is zero debate in this, was give 27 states billions of dollars to enact “Truth In Sentencing” (TIS) laws. These laws required violent or drug offenders to serve 85% of their time.  States who chose to apply for grant funds to build new prisons, hire new police officers, and acquire fancy new military grade police equipment, first had to prove that they were cracking down on crime.

Some states already had archaic and oppressive laws on their books. Others, such as California, passed harsh TIS laws so they were able to share in the $30.2 billion that was up for grabs. The federal crime bill was signed in September of 1994 and by December the state of California had already passed its now infamous “Three Strikes” law.  The bill made – and this even feels silly to type – traditionally Black crimes like drive bys and carjackings federal offenses.

Additionally, the 1994 crime bill made it legal for states to incarcerate illegal immigrants.  A move that is truly baffling when you think about it. Why would you want to keep people who are here illegally in the country longer, only to be forced to house and feed them, then deport them?  It’s all about the all mighty dollar. What the Clinton administration did was essentially bolster the prison industrial complex, making sure that incarceration of people would remain a big business for several decades to come.

And just because the desired effect wasn’t achieved doesn’t mean the intent wasn’t still shitty. The intent if the bill was to out more bodies in jail. It’s easy to say that incarceration was on the rise before the bill. The real interesting part about the Times article is that the analysis seems to only be superficial.  At no point did the article or the study that it was based on say: “Crime went down, but incarceration went up… That’s counterintuitive, let’s dig into that.”

Bottom line is that there is a correlation, even if there isn’t a proven causation, between the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and the number of Black and brown bodies that have been locked up since its passage.  This is the reality that the Clintons created, and they should be held accountable for their actions. At the very least there should be a very candid and frank conversations about the impacts that bill had on communities of color in this country.

Amidst all the finger wagging and harsh words, one thing has become very evident: The Clintons may feel that Black lives matter, but only really because Black votes matter.

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