Bernie Sanders is taking heat for his support of a 1994 crime bill that grew the prison industry by $16 billion and created a slew of new crimes and sentencing guidelines, but the Sanders campaign is pushing back by releasing a video from 1991 showing where Sanders really stands on the issue.
Sanders had been taking criticism from conservative circles for his vote for the bill, which seemed to go against his ideals. The bill was infamous for its difficult sentencing standards, which many critics said were unfairly aimed at black criminals.
The Nation had called out Hillary Clinton for her support of the bill, but also took aim at Sanders.
“This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn’t quite get what’s at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice.”
Some have stood up for Sanders, noting that the final bill included a number of earmarks that Democrats fought for to reduce crime. Real Clear Politics wrote that these were added to win the votes of many on the fence, and make it difficult for more progressive members to vote against it.
“The bill was not strictly about incarceration. Also included in the $30 billion were funds aimed at crime prevention: community policing, drug treatment and so-called ‘midnight basketball’ leagues to help keep teens out of trouble. The landmark Violence Against Women Act was established in that bill, which has helped reduce domestic violence by two-thirds, a steeper drop than the overall decline in violent crime. And the bill included an assault weapons ban, although congressional Republicans refused to renew it a decade later.”
The Sanders campaign is now responding strongly as well, publishing an animated video showing his 1991 speech against the bill.
The nearly two-minute video shows then Representative Bernie Sanders making an impassioned plea against the crime prevention bill, calling it a punishment bill. In the speech, Sanders also called on Congress to address the root causes of crime, poverty and a system slanted against the poor.
“We have the highest percentage of people in jail of any industrialized nation on earth. We’ve beaten South Africa, we’ve beaten the Soviet Union. Instead of talking about punishment and vengeance, let’s have the courage to talk about the real issue: how do we get to the root causes of crime.
“This is a very, very serious problem in this country. I’ve got a problem with a president and a Congress which allows 5 million children to go hungry, 2 million people to sleep on the streets, cities to become breeding grounds for drugs and crime.
“If you want to get tough on crime, lets deal with the root causes of crime. Lets demand that every man woman and child in this country has a decent opportunity at a decent standard of living. Let’s not keep putting poor people into jail and disproportionally punishing black people.”
The video may serve a very important purpose for Bernie Sanders beyond responding to allegations that he voted against his ideals. The video also shows voters that Sanders is a candidate whose views — and his passion in defense of them — have not changed in the more than two decades since he first made the speech.
That serves as a contrast to Hillary Clinton, who Sanders and the campaign’s proxies have been attacking as changing her beliefs to fit whatever the current political climate calls for. This week Sanders supporters helped the hashtag #WhichHillary go viral, pointing out the inconsistencies in her political views over the past few decades.
So Carolina black voters say they know Hillary Clinton well enough 2 pass on Bernie Sanders https://t.co/S3UBJuUVBC LOOK at VT incarceration
— Donna Ysland (@52fairway) February 26, 2016
— Charlamagne Tha God (@cthagod) February 26, 2016
The video could serve another important purpose as well. Bernie Sanders has been working to gain inroads among non-white voters, and appears to be nearing a breakthrough. This week, he earned the endorsement of an influential Latino rights group in Arizona, and the video along with Sanders’ defense of the black community targeted by the bill could help him win over more voters in this important demographic.
[Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images]