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“Let’s Look At The Crime Bill”: Doing What You Can, When You Can, While Recognizing That The Job Is Never Done

Watching Bill Clinton bickering with Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia recently, I had several conflicting, and not entirely praiseworthy responses. One was that the longer an American political campaign continues, the dumber and uglier it gets.

Another was, why bother? People holding up signs saying “Hillary is a Murderer” aren’t there for dialogue. The charge is so absurd it’s self-refuting. Certainly nobody in the audience was buying.

That woman who shouted that Bill Clinton should be charged with crimes against humanity? He probably should have let it go. Bickering over a 1994 crime bill has little political salience in 2016, particularly since Hillary’s opponent, the sainted Bernie Sanders, actually voted for the damn thing. She didn’t.

Instead, Clinton briefly lost his cool. The next day, he said he “almost” wanted to apologize, which strikes me as slicing the bologna awfully thin even for him.

You’ve probably seen the ten-second clip on TV. “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 on the street to murder other African-American children,” Clinton said angrily. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens, [Hillary] didn’t. You are defending the people who killed the people whose lives you say matter! Tell the truth. You are defending the people who caused young people to go out and take guns.”

Many Democratic-oriented pundits found this shocking. Evidently political journalism is where Freudianism—or Maureen Dowdism anyway—has gone to die. Even as astute an observer as Slate’s Michelle Goldberg went all psychoanalytical on Clinton.

“It is somehow only when he is working on his wife’s behalf that he veers into sabotage,” she wrote. “What is needed here is probably a shrink…Either he doesn’t want her to overtake him, or he doesn’t want her to repudiate him. Regardless, Hillary should shut him down. She can’t divorce him, but she can fire him.”

Fat chance. Anyway, who says the outburst hurt her? Sure Bill Clinton can get hot defending his wife. I suspect more voters find that admirable than not.

It’s also unclear whom Clinton’s tantrum offended. “If you read some intellectuals on the left, they’d suggest there should be a grudge against the Clintons,” Michael Fortner, a professor of urban studies at the City University of New York told the Christian Science Monitor “but I think the primary results show there isn’t a grudge at all.”

Fortner, author of the book “Black Silent Majority,” argues that contrary to Black Lives Matter, many in the African-American community understand that the tough-on-crime aspects of the 1994 law weren’t foisted upon them by white racists. Devastated by a veritable Tsunami of violence and gang warfare, “political leaders, mayors, and pastors played an important role in pushing for these policies.”

In Little Rock, where I lived, it was common to hear fusillades of gunfire in black neighborhoods at night. During Clinton’s first term, the city’s homicide rate was nearly triple today’s—the vast majority of victims young black men. Teenagers I coached on Boys Club basketball teams needed to be careful what color clothing they wore en route to practice. People got shot to death for wearing Crips blue in Bloods neighborhoods.

Businesses closed, jobs dried up; anybody with the means to get out, got out. Including, one suspects, the parents of some Black Lives Matter activists. There’s a reason two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus joined Bernie Sanders in supporting the 1994 legislation.

Clinton told them about all that, along with a recitation of the bill’s Democratic virtues: a (since rescinded) assault-weapons ban, the Violence Against Women Act, 100,000 new cops on the beat. Then he made some probably insupportable claims about the crime bill’s good effects:

“A 25-year low in crime, a 33-year low in the murder rate—and listen to this, because of that and the background-check law, a 46-year low in the deaths of people from gun violence. And who do you think those lives were, that mattered? Whose lives were saved, that mattered?”

But then it’s also a stretch to say the bill’s responsible for America having more citizens in prison than Russia and Iran. Eighty-seven percent are in state penitentiaries, not federal lockups. Fifty-three percent of those for violent crimes. Those numbers Clinton didn’t dwell upon, although he did in a speech last year. “The bad news,” he said “is we had a lot of people who were locked up, who were minor actors, for way too long.”

Hillary Clinton herself has regretted resorting—one time, 20 years ago—to a comic-book term like “super-predators” to describe drug gang members.

Lost in all the hubbub was Bill Clinton taking the protesters seriously enough to engage them about what the dread “triangulation” really signifies. It’s not an ideological label, but a philosophical inclination: doing what you can, when you can, while recognizing that the job is never done.

 

By: Gene Lyons, Featured Post, The National Memo, April 13, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Black Lives Matter, Crime Bill 1994, Law and Order | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cuddling Up To Criminals”: Criminal-Justice Reform At CPAC

Attendees wait in line to vote in the presidential straw poll at the American Conservative Union’s CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on Thursday, March 3, 2016.

On Thursday, conservatives of all stripes descended on the Gaylord National Convention Center at the National Harbor in Maryland, just a few miles south of Washington, D.C. In recent years, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference has featured presentations on topics ranging from the future of the Republican Party to voter engagement to criminal-justice reform, which lately has gained support from the right side of the aisle.

This year’s panel on criminal-justice reform featured a debate pitting reformers Pat Nolan of the American Conservative Union and Ken Cuccinelli, the former attorney general of Virginia, against lock-’em-up apostle David Clarke, the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, who’d famously compared Black Lives Matter protesters to ISIS terrorists.

“Folks,” Clarke began, “you’re not being told the truth when it comes to this criminal-justice reform and sentencing reform.” Clarke went on to tout the policies from the tough-on-crime era. “This led to record low numbers of crime, violent crimes, in your communities,” he said.

For conservatives who favor reducing the prison population, a popular talking point has to do with costs. The United States spends approximately $80 billion each year keeping people behind bars. For those fond of fiscal conservatism, that’s just more government spending that can be cut.

But Clarke dismissed the idea in his opening remarks. “All this is going to do, at best, is shift the cost from the federal government down to the state level,” he said. Citing high recidivism rates, he argued that re-offenders would be put into state prisons, forcing states to incur the costs. Of course, the overwhelming majority of prisoners are in state, not federal, prisons to begin with, so cost-shifting from the federal to the state level isn’t really an issue in the criminal-justice reform discussion—not that Clarke seemed to understand that.

Cuccinelli, who is a part of of the Right on Crime initiative—a campaign for conservative solutions to criminal justice—sang a different tune. “Over the last ten years, [Texas] has reduced both their budget for prisons and their crime rate by double digit percentages,” he said.

“It’s not the Californias and the New Yorks of the world, it’s the Texases, the Georgias, the Dakotas,” that are reforming their criminal-justice systems, he said—even though Texas and Georgia are in the top ten states with the highest incarcerations rates.

Nolan delivered a semi-impassioned defense of why the government should only prosecute certain crimes like rape, murder, and robbery and should target major drug traffickers as opposed to street dealers. Clarke interrupted him to demonstrate why nonviolent drug offenders deserve to be in prison for as long as possible.

“If you’re a struggling mom living in a slum or a ghetto in a city in the United States of America,” Clarke said, “and you’re doing everything that you can to keep your kid away from that dope dealer standing on the corner who’s out there every day … do you know that to get that guy off the street for as long as we can be allowed by law is a big deal for her?”

Though Nolan and Cuccinelli continued to make the case for shorter sentences for certain crimes as well as ways to reduce prison spending—a case that other Republican legislators are making as well—Clarke made clear that there was plenty of pushback from other conservatives. He name-checked four Republican senators who agree with him on the need to stick with the status quo. “Tom Cotton is right on this. Jeff Sessions is right on this. Orrin Hatch is right on this. Ted Cruz is right on opposing this Trojan horse.”

“I find it unfathomable that we would cede this [issue] back over to the left and to the Democrats,” said Clarke, “by cuddling up to criminals.”

 

By: Nathalie Baptiste, The American Prospect, March 4, 2016

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, CPAC, Criminal Justice Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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