Bill Clinton owes no one an apology or even an “almost” apology.
In one of the purest moments I’ve seen this campaign season, Bill Clinton set the record straight on his controversial 1994 crime bill and the politics of the Black Lives Matter movement in a Philadelphia speech.
In a clash that has now gone viral, Clinton called out a young protestor –not formally affiliated with BLM but a supporter of the movement – for criticizing Hillary Clinton’s support for his anti-crime policies in the 1990s. This has been an issue for Hillary throughout the campaign, as she has been regularly confronted over the 1994 Crime bill—supported by then-Congressman Bernie Sanders, for what it’s worth—which many argue led to putting generations of black men behind bars. Under pressure from the progressive left and the BLM movement, she apologized in February for having used the term “super predators” in a 1996 speech.
Bill Clinton showed us why Hillary shouldn’t have apologized in the first place. Her retraction was pure pandering and highlighted just how often politics and the need to pacify specific factions – in this case, BLM – has affected our national discourse.
Anyone who knows Hillary Clinton or what the crime bill was about knows that she wasn’t talking about black youths generally when she used the term “super predator.” She was talking about drug dealers and gang leaders. As Bill Clinton put it in Philadelphia, “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 streets to murder other African-American children.”
Sounds like “super predators” to me. And anyone reading it any differently doesn’t want to confront the realities of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when national murders topped 23,000 for five years straight.
The 1994 Crime bill worked. That doesn’t mean that it was perfect. The law has arguably led to overly aggressive policing tactics in some communities and extended prison sentencing. But the measure accomplished most of what it set out to do in reducing homicides, putting more cops on the street, banning semi-automatic assault weapons, and addressing gang violence.
You wouldn’t know it today, but the bill actually reduced sentencing for federal drug crimes through an exemption for non-violent first time offenders. It invested money in drug courts, which both Republicans and Democrats agree should be more widely used as alternatives to prison. And it spent upward of $3 billion ensuring that at-risk youth stay away from gangs.
The results were clear: within a year after the Crime bill’s passage, the homicide rate went down by 10 percent and continued to drop. Indeed, by 2000, the murder rate had dropped an astounding 40 percent from its peak. Someone will need to explain to me how these results could be considered a bad thing.
Those who claim that the crime bill locked up generations of black men who were low-level drug offenders must simply confront the empirical reality.
As Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute writes, “The state-prison population (which accounts for 87 percent of the nation’s prisoners) is dominated by violent criminals and serial thieves. In 2013 drug offenders made up less than 16 percent of the state-prison population; violent felons were 54 percent and property offenders 19 percent...in federal prisons [drug offenders] aren’t casual drug users; overwhelmingly, they are serious traffickers. Fewer than 1 percent of drug offenders sentenced in federal court in 2014 were convicted of simple drug possession, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.”
That’s not the picture Black Lives Matter—or even President Obama—has been painting of crime and punishment. With the left peddling this distorted reality, it’s no surprise that Hillary was under huge pressure to apologize, or that Bill wound up offering an “almost” apology.
Both should have hung tough and stood up for the truth. The black community backed the 1994 crime bill. And both Clintons support sensible criminal justice reform today. Politics shouldn’t be about capitulation. It should be about results. The Crime bill produced results for America that both Clintons were proud of back then. If anything, they should be even more proud, two decades later.