The Clintons, the '90S, African-Americans: Race for Black Votes Spurs Look Back

By Panetta, Alexander | The Canadian Press, February 23, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Clintons, the '90S, African-Americans: Race for Black Votes Spurs Look Back


Panetta, Alexander, The Canadian Press


The Clintons, the '90s, and African-Americans

--

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Now that black voters are about to have a major say in a series of Democratic primaries there's a sudden spurt of scrutiny over how the Clinton era of the 1990s affected African-Americans.

A prominent writer has fuelled a debate with a piece suggesting African-Americans are being duped into helping her get elected, given that their community was deeply damaged by policies she supported.

''It seems we're eager to get played. Again,'' says the ''Nation'' piece, titled, ''Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote: From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted -- and Hillary Clinton supported -- decimated black America.''

It's written by the author of an influential 2012 book, ''The New Jim Crow,'' by Michelle Alexander.

As suggested by the title, she argues that the tough-on-crime movement popular in the last half of the 20th century was a direct descendent of past racist policies: the end of slavery prompted a push for segregation in the 1870s, then a century later when that ended, the worst segregationists turned their attention to order in the streets.

This all happened as black communities were being walloped by the first wave of lost manufacturing jobs, she says, and she points to statistics that suggest justice was far from colour blind: although blacks used and sold drugs in similar numbers to whites, she said they were punished far more severely.

These policies reached their peak in 1994.

In a near-unanimous vote, Congress passed a bill that not only exploded incarceration rates but even worse, she said, also destroyed the potential of rehabilitation by doing things like cutting education programs for inmates and ending social housing for families that included an ex-con.

The law was backed by Democrats, who'd grown tired of being beaten up politically for being soft on crime, and ultimately signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton.

Alexander's piece quotes then-first-lady Hillary Clinton promoting the law during a 1996 re-election campaign speech. In it, she compared young criminals to animals: ''They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators -- no conscience, no empathy... We have to bring them to heel."

The issue is being raised at a timely moment -- Clinton is relying on the support of African-Americans to survive a tough challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

She had a front-page column this week in a South Carolina's black-community newspaper, ''The Chronicle. …

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