As someone from the hip-hop generation – and by that, I mean someone who was literally born in the 70s who did backspins on street corners on cardboard – I have to admit: watching Bill Clinton’s epic takedown of a couple Black Lives Matter protesters in Philadelphia last week made me miss gangsta rap. Why? Because most often what’s missing from many of out political discussions is historical context.
Well, there’s that, and the fact that because gangsta rap is no longer a thing, we have the false impression that it’s all good in the hood. Guess what? It isn’t, and it has never been. But when yu listen to critics of Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill, you get the impression that the legislation was simply part of a grand conspiracy to throw black people in jail cells without any reason other than being black.
While this may happen from time to time – yes, systemic racism is real – the 1994 Crime Bill, by and large, was not that. While we can have a debate as to whether it was the best response to an era across America when crime was rampant, what’s undeniable is that there was indeed a dramatic spike in crime led mostly by the growth of the underground drug market that hip-hop spoke of. And as drugs and violent crime would have it, let’s just say that many members of the black community were victimized by fellow members of the black community.
So like a true hip-hop emcee, this is the truth Bill Clinton spoke in Philadelphia when he was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters when he said, “You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter.” You know what? He is absolutely correct.
Watch the exchange below:
So, since we’re all about truth-telling in the spirit of hip-hop, how about this tidbit in the New York Times from David Yassky.
As counsel to the House Subcommittee on Crime led by Charles E. Schumer, then a representative, I spent 18 months helping to draft and negotiate the 1994 crime bill. Anyone who thinks the bill was just about locking people up is simply wrong.
]…] In 1993, the year President Clinton took office,violent crime struck nearly 11 million Americans, and an additional 32 million suffered thefts or burglaries. These staggering numbers put millions more in fear. They also choked the economic vitality out of entire neighborhoods.
Politically, crime had become one of the most divisive issues in the country. Republicans called for an ever more punitive “war on drugs,” while many Democrats offered little beyond nebulous calls to eliminate the “root causes” of crime.
President Clinton took a different approach, working with like-minded Democrats, including Mr. Schumer and Joseph Biden, who was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill they devised actually reduced sentences for federal drug crimes by exempting first-time, nonviolent drug offenders from the onerous “mandatory minimum” penalties created under earlier administrations. It funded specialized drug courts, drug treatment programs, “boot camps” and other efforts to rehabilitate offenders without incarceration. It allocated more than $3 billion to keep at-risk young people away from gangs and the drug trade.
Yassky goes on to explain that as politics and the legislative process would have it, compromises were made to secure Republican support. At the time the bill was passed, unlike today, back in the 90s passing a bill in the senate required a majority vote by 67 Senators. Because the bill included an assault weapon ban Republicans opposed, Clinton and the Democrats were unable to get the reduced sentencing guidelines they originally sought while being able to keep the assault weapons ban and background checks. This is part of the historical context missing from much of the critique of the 1994 Crime Bill by many of my friends.
We didn’t get everything we wanted. There are two parties in Congress; the Republicans won some concessions. The crime bill left many of the Reagan-era sentences in place. Regrettably, it expanded the federal death penalty, with the support of President Clinton and solid majorities in both parties. But on the whole, it was indisputably a de-escalation of the so-called war on drugs, a first step toward the more wholesale decriminalization underway today.
[…] Critics of the 1994 bill gloss over the hard truth that the good news and the bad news are linked, perhaps because a myth has grown up that the inmates swelling our prison population are drug offenders who pose no real threat to public safety. That is not the case. Only about one-fifth of the people entering prison since the 1990s are drug offenders, according to research by John F. Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University.
In case you didn’t know, gangbangers are very fond of assault weapons. Listening to today’s hip-hop or what passes for it, you may not now this, but many assault weapons were used to kill people in communities of color across America. Trust me, before school shootings became popular, in the streets, they were all the rage.
Back in the day, we joked about crack babies, our crackhead cousins, and VCRs being stolen. But yet, today we’re offended by Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “superpredator,” back n 1996. When did we become so fragile? Oh yeah, today we listen to Drake. Dammit, I miss gangsta rap, 40oz bottles of malt liquor, and eight-ball jackets.
Speaking of nostalgia…
Remember when car-jacking and drive-by shootings became a thing in the early 90s? No? Oh yeah, none of that ever happened. Yes, and Gary, Indiana, Washington D.C., and New Orleans never had the dubious distinction of being considered the “Murder Capital” of the United States either. Like the moon landing, it all happened in a Hollywood Studio.
Can you imagine a spike in drugs and violent crime in your city, and in response, the mayor decides to lay off cops? That’s how stupid some of you sound about the ’94 Crime Bill. Hell, why are we even calling for tougher gun laws in the wake of all these mass shootings today? We should do nothing, right? Yeah, that’ll work.
When Chris Rick said that when he goes to the ATM at 2AM he isn’t looking over his shoulder for black people, but instead, “niggas,” we laughed. And we did because in our collective consciousness and infinite Negrodom we knew it was true. But yet today we’re pissed off because Bill Clinton suggested that it isn’t a good idea to “defend” the black folks among us who have, and continue to victimize black people in our communities. See? That’s that bullshit. But hey, whatever.
Hey, black people: Why don’t we do something different for a change. Why don’t we pretend that drugs weren’t a problem in communities of color in the 80s and 90s? Yes, and while we do this, let’s start bitching and protesting about the many people who went to jail for drugs because when they were caught, the government should’ve given them jobs. How about that? Good idea?
You know what? People in the real world don’t give a fuck about what you so-called academics and members of the Black intelligentsia think. When you’re living in an underserved community and members of said community are fucking shit up, all they know is that said individuals are fucking shit up and making it harder for members of the community.
That said, fuck you and your critique of Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and even George Clinton when it comes to “superpredators” or whatever terms coined by sociologists that may insult your over-melanined sensibilities. Save all that bullshit you’re talking about for the innocent victims of crime in our communities. Now, have a nice day while I go bag some weed and break down this Kilo of coke and go get this money.