At a campaign event in Philadelphia, former President Bill Clinton lashed out at Black Lives Matter protesters, who criticized his 1994 crime bill that incarcerated large swaths of the African American population. He accused them of defending drug dealers and murderers. The social media backlash was swift, with Twitter and Facebook users criticizing his remarks as callous.
President Clinton’s 1994 crime bill is, by some accounts, one of the most devastating things that have happened to the Black community in modern history. It has torn families apart and jailed people for nonviolent crimes such as possessing small amounts of marijuana. Bernie Sanders has long been critical of the law, despite having voted for it while he was a congressman.
The former president managed to insult an entire demographic while generating cheers from his audience.
“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. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t. You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter.”
— Mic (@micnews) April 7, 2016
In 1994, when the Violent Crime Control Act was still in the process of being passed, Bernie Sanders expressed serious doubts about the bill itself. In a statement before his colleagues, he blasted many of the provisions in the bill that could lead to the mass incarceration of innocent people.
“…it is also my view that through the neglect of our government and through a grossly irrational set of priorities, we are dooming tens of millions of young people to a future of bitterness, misery, hopelessness, drugs, crime, and violence.
And Mr. Speaker, all the jails in the world, and we already imprison more people per capita than any other country, and all of the executions in the world, will not make that situation right. We can either educate or electrocute. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails.”
Sanders ultimately voted in favor of Clinton’s bill due to the inclusion of the Violence Against Women Act. The House version of the larger crime bill also included an assault weapons ban, which Sanders had supported since 1988. Before the bill passed, though, he voted six times to weaken or eliminate the death penalty provisions and also voted separately against mandatory minimum sentences.
While Bernie Sanders is criticized for voting for the sweeping 1994 legislation, Hillary and Bill Clinton have gotten a pass, even though their combined efforts caused far greater damage to Black and Latino communities.
As First Lady, Hillary Clinton vigorously supported her husband’s crime legislation, and lobbied for its passage.
Since the legislation passed, institutionalized violence against African Americans has been well documented. African Americans are often the biggest targets of police brutality. Eric Garner, who was killed by an officer using a forbidden chokehold; Walter Scott, an unarmed man who was fatally shot by an officer while running away; Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice – all died unarmed due to excessive police violence.
And while they've been manufacturing false narratives to feign outrage over Sanders, the Clintons have indeed been outrageous towards BLM
— Benjamin Dixon (@TheBpDShow) April 7, 2016
In March, Charles Harrell of Cincinnati was arrested while on a morning walk by a police officer who had already beaten another black man to death in 2003. Harrell filmed the incident on his cell phone, which began when Harrell noticed Officer Baron Osterman following him. Eventually, Osterman accused Harrell of jaywalking at an intersection and subsequently arrested him.
Instead of treating African Americans as potential criminals (as Bill and Hillary Clinton appear to do), Bernie Sanders believes the American justice system ought to treat them equally, without the threat of unprovoked violence.
The crowd responds with thunderous cheers when Bill Clinton says the crime bill that expanded mass incarceration saved black lives.
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) April 7, 2016
Sanders wants to eliminate police quotas for tickets and fines, which affect people of color more often. These quotas, Sanders claims, serve only to promote racial profiling and foster resentment and distrust between the police and communities. He also wants to ban for-profit prisons, an industry that Bill Clinton helped lay the groundwork for.
— aaron bowersock (@abowersock) April 8, 2016
Bill Clinton’s remarks about the Black Lives Matter protesters displayed a gross sense of white privilege, which stands in stark contrast to Bernie Sanders. Instead of punishing people harshly for petty crimes, Sanders believes we must first address the underlying problems causing people to resort to crime. And it all boils down to economic inequality.
Sanders’ website gives extensive details about how he would like to address the various forms of racial inequity and violence against people of color. A few of his policy proposals illustrate his knowledge on the issue.
- Invest in relationships between communities and the police. This includes increased civilian oversight of police departments.
- Encourage officers to report criminal behavior by other police officers without fear of reprimand.
- Establish federal guidelines and a new model for police training that de-emphasizes violence.
- Federally fund and mandate body-worn cameras for the police.
- Require police departments to collect data on all police shootings and deaths of suspects in custody. Currently, there is no such requirement.
- Crack down on illegal actions by hate groups.
And, in contrast to Bill Clinton’s beliefs that we must deal harshly with drug dealers and users, Bernie Sanders wants to end the failed “War on Drugs.” Again, Black and Latino communities are both affected at far greater numbers than any other groups. They are more likely to be searched during a traffic stop. They are more likely to receive harsher sentences for nonviolent crimes, and the failed drug policies of our nation have destroyed more lives than they’ve helped.
It is time for Bill and Hillary Clinton to understand that the Black Lives Matter movement is more than just a bunch of kids holding up signs at a rally. It is a protest against policies that helped contribute to institutionalized racism. Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate who understands that in order to have racial equality, we must first have economic equality.
[Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images]