I’ve seen it on Facebook, Twitter, Op-Eds, the news: You shouldn’t support Hillary Clinton for president because she supported the 1994 Crime Bill. These arguments tend to come from Bernie Sanders supporters and surrogates (I haven’t seen Bernie make the argument himself likely because he knows it’s a dumb one). I’m not sure if these people are uneducated on the issue or are trying to con uninformed voters, but either way please stop. There are many legitimate reasons for supporting Bernie over Hillary but the Crime Bill isn’t one of them.
The argument tends to have two parts: (1) Hillary Clinton supported the Crime Bill, which was bad, and (2) Hillary is racist because she used the term “superpredator” to raise support for the bill.
First, Hillary did support the Crime Bill. But you want to know why that’s not a good reason for supporting Bernie over her? BECAUSE BERNIE VOTED FOR IT.
You know what’s a shitty argument? You should vote for B over A because A supported C if B also supported C.
That really should be the end of the discussion, but let’s delve a little deeper.
When Hillary supported the bill, she was First Lady. Her support had no legal effect. She could have supported the bill to the moon and back and it wouldn’t have mattered if Congress didn’t pass the bill and send it to Bill to sign it so it could become a law.
You want to know whose support did have legal effect? Bernie Sander’s. Bernie was a member of the House of Representatives from 1991 through 2007. His vote mattered. So let’s stop using support for a bill that Bernie voted for as a reason not to support Hillary.
Part of the argument against Hillary (whether implied or explicitly said) is that the Crime Bill led to the War on Drugs, which has been disastrous for communities of color.
But context is important. It very well may be true that the Crime Bill was bad and shouldn’t have been passed, but it’s also important to remember that in the early 1990s crime rates were much higher than they are today. There was a lot of support from Black leaders for the Crime Bill, including yes votes on the Crime Bill from Black members of Congress. And the hesitation by many black politicians regarding the Crime Bill was not due to the provisions regarding drugs but rather the provisions regarding capital punishment. In fact, because Black communities were often most negatively affected by drugs violence, black leaders had been vocal for decades before the Crime Bill was passed asking for increased police protection and longer sentences for crimes like drug dealing and mugging. So you should definitely forgive Hillary’s support for the Crime Bill and you can forgive Bernie’s vote, too.
Second, the superpredator thing.
Back in the day, crime rates were high and horrific crimes by juveniles were happening with alarming frequency. Scholars began using the term “superpredator” to describe remorseless, impulsive youth and predicted soaring violence rates and a bleak future. The most prominent scholar was a Princeton professor, who has since admitted his estimates were wrong and conceded that, “Demography is not fate.”
And one time, in 1996, in New Hampshire (a state with very few minorities so it’s hard to imagine Hillary would be playing up racial fears there), Hillary said this while trying to rally support for the Crime Bill: “They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘superpredators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.” You’ll notice that she defined superpredators (no conscience, no empathy), but did not use explicitly racial language.
Was it her best moment? No. She has expressed remorse: “In that speech, I was talking about the impact violent crime and vicious drug cartels were having on communities across the country and the particular danger they posed to children and families. Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”
Is it reasonable to not support a candidate for using a term 20 years ago that was coined by a Princeton professor and was commonly used in academic papers and on the news? I’d say no. Especially since she’s expressed remorse for any sin she committed, explicitly supports many things that would benefit communities of color, and is widely supported by communities of color (it’s hard to call someone racist if they are embraced by the group allegedly receiving the racial animosity).
One of the many notorious crimes that led to the call for the Crime Bill was the the brutal rape and beating of a female jogger in Central Park in 1989. Five high school boys (the Central Park Five), four of whom were black and one of whom was Latino while the oldest of whom was 16, were arrested for the crime. In response, Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in the Daily News, calling for New York to “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” The boys, due to coerced confessions, were convicted even though they did not commit the crime. They have since been released and received a multi-million dollar settlement from New York City. Has Donald Trump apologized for calling for them to be killed or otherwise backed down? No; he criticized the settlement and stated that the kids were probably involved in some kind of criminal activity on the night of the assault.
Let’s remember that arguing against Hillary because she supported the Crime Bill is not a good argument because Bernie voted for it. Also, it’s very possible that Hillary Clinton will be running against Donald Trump in the general election, with the winner becoming the President of the United States of America. Remember the Central Park Five before you decide it’s #BernieorBust