Former President Bill Clinton is a great guy, but I still have major issues with his policies from the 90's, including (and especially) the 1994 crime bill that he cooked up along with Joe Biden. When Black Lives Matter activists showed up to challenge him as a campaign event for Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania yesterday, the Big Dog fully went off his chain.
In a prolonged exchange Thursday afternoon, former President Bill Clinton forcefully defended his 1994 crime bill to Black Lives Matter protesters in the crowd at a Hillary Clinton campaign event.
He said the bill lowered the country's crime rate, which benefited African-Americans, achieved bipartisan support, and diversified the police force. He then addressed a protester's sign, saying:
"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 onto the street to murder other African-American children," Clinton said, addressing a protester who appeared to interrupt him repeatedly. "Maybe you thought they were good citizens .... You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter. Tell the truth. You are defending the people who cause young people to go out and take guns."
The Clintons have faced criticism from BLM activists and younger black voters for months now over that bill, which they say put an unfairly high number of black Americans in prison for nonviolent offenses.
After a protester interrupted him repeatedly, Bill Clinton began to take on that critique directly, making the claim that his crime bill was being given a bad rap.
"Here's what happened," Clinton said. "Let's just tell the whole story."
"I had an assault weapons ban in it [the crime bill]. I had money for inner-city kids, for out of school activities. We had 110,000 police officers so we could keep people on the street, not in these military vehicles, and the police would look like the people they were policing. We did all that. And [Joe] Biden [then senator and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee] said, you can't pass this bill, the Republicans will kill it, if you don't put more sentencing in it."
"I talked to a lot of African-American groups," Clinton continued. "They thought black lives matter. They said take this bill, because our kids are being shot in the street by gangs. We have 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals."
Throughout the spirited defense of his policy, Clinton continued to be interrupted, and he repeatedly seemed to single out one protester.
"She doesn't wanna hear any of that," Clinton said to the protester. "You know what else she doesn't want to hear? Because of that bill, we have a 25-year low in crime, a 33-year low in murder rate. And because of that and the background check law, we had a 46-year low in the deaths of people by gun violence, and who do you think those lives were? That mattered? Whose lives were saved that mattered?"
Now, I understand that it wasn't Hillary who passed that bill in 1994. I understand also that black leaders and Democrats were some of the loudest voices in calling for police help for crime problems in the 90's. The crack epidemic in black neighborhoods was very, very real and very, very deadly, and it was only the crime component -- something that could affect white people -- that motivated any action at all.
But this is the worst defense of Bill Clinton's policies I think I've ever seen Bill Clinton give. He certainly did no favors to Hillary with this performance, he came across as a tone-deaf jackass, and he made it all about himself. There are very legitimate concerns that the bill went too far, and that what Republicans wanted in the bill was a way to punish black neighborhoods and the people who lived there while Democratic leaders looked the other way. The bill absolutely created the mass incarceration state we have today, and the sentencing laws that Clinton wants to shove off on the GOP in a bill he signed still ended up in a bill he signed.
So yes, I blame Clinton, and to an extent Joe Biden, for that. Neither one of them have given a good answer to black communities about this legislation, and whenever Bill Clinton especially is given the chance to respond, he acts like a sullen goddamn teenager caught taking Mom's car keys to go on a joyride.
"Maybe you should be a bit more grateful to me" is 100% the wrong attitude to be packing when it comes to the Big Bog and Black Live Matter, and it's not like this hasn't happened before. Hillary's best campaign surrogate is also clearly her worst at times, and it's way past time the Big Dog goes in the doghouse for a while and starts thinking about what he needs to say to the rest of us.
People talk about how the Clintons have learned since their defeat in 2008, but this issue existed then as well, and Bill Clinton at least hasn't learned a goddamn thing.