In 1996, Hillary Clinton declared that her husband’s crime policy was aimed at gangs, people who are “often connected to big drug cartels.” She said these are not “just gangs of kids anymore” but are “often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators.” They have “no conscience, no empathy.”
“We can talk about why they ended up that way but first we have to bring them to heel,” Clinton added, as if they were dogs or some kind of other animal.
The racially-coded language Clinton used in 1996 was challenged at a private fundraising event in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 24, three days before the primary.
In a posted video, Black Lives Matter activist Ashley Williams steps up by Clinton and unfurls a banner, as Clinton talks about body cameras for police and other criminal justice reforms she supports. The banner reads, “We have to bring them to heel.” It also has a hashtag at the bottom, “#WhichHillary.”
Clinton is turned away from Williams. As she wraps up her talking point, she pivots to focus on Williams. She has no idea what is on the banner and says we have somebody saying something here. She leans down to read the banner.
“We have to bring them to heel,” she says, and one can hear in the intonation of her voice she slowly realizes these are her words. “Okay, we’ll talk about that,” Clinton adds.
Williams demands Clinton apologize to black people for mass incarceration. She repeats her demand, and Clinton puts her hand up to quiet her and ask, “Can I talk?”
“There’s a lot of issues, a lot of issues in this campaign. The very first speech that I gave back in April was about criminal justice reform,” Clinton informs attendees at the fundraiser.
Williams recognizes Clinton is dodging her question and reminds her she called black people “super-predators.”
As Williams interrupts Clinton, one attendee shouts, “You’re being rude!” Another says, “This is not appropriate.” A man declares, “You’re trespassing!”
But Williams is not. She contributed $500 to attend the fundraising event with mostly upper class white South Carolinians.
As Williams insists, “I am a super-predator” and continues to protest, attendees say, “Excuse me,” and ask her to let Clinton talk. Secret Service remove Williams from the event.
Clinton claims, while Williams is being removed, that she has never been asked about “super-predators” before. “You’re the first person to ask me. I’m happy to address it, but you are the first person to ask me.” However, when Clinton thinks Williams has exited, she states, “Okay, back to the issues.”
In other words, back to what matters to the liberal white upper-class supporters of mine in this lavish home.
According to The Washington Post, “The evening fundraising event was not disclosed by the Clinton campaign, although the campaign has voluntarily released information about other fundraisers in the past. The event also was not advertised to news outlets covering Clinton as she campaigns ahead of the primary vote Saturday.”
So, Clinton definitely did not expect to be confronted by anyone at the fundraiser.
The day after, as outrage spread, Jonathan Capehart, a columnist for the Washington Post, obtained a statement from Clinton in which she said of her “super-predator” comment, “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”
“My life’s work has been about lifting up children and young people who’ve been let down by the system or by society. Kids who never got the chance they deserved. And unfortunately today, there are way too many of those kids, especially in African-American communities. We haven’t done right by them. We need to. We need to end the school to prison pipeline and replace it with a cradle-to-college pipeline,” Clinton added.
“As an advocate, as First Lady, as Senator, I was a champion for children,” Clinton maintained.
That statement is simply not reflected in her record. As First Lady, she supported terrible policies which had a devastating impact on children of color.
On April 29, 2015, Clinton delivered a major criminal justice reform speech at Columbia University. Her summary of her background “challenging” inequities in the legal system entirely omitted how she and her husband, President Clinton, fueled the very racist dynamic which she now wants voters to believe she will appropriately address if elected president. Hillary Clinton championed the need to reform “arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences,” without acknowledging that she and her husband supported a federal “three strikes” law.
Months after voicing his support for “three strikes” in his 1994 State of the Union address, President Clinton signed a $30 billion crime bill that “created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces,” as Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” recently recounted in a column for The Nation.
“I’ve been encouraged to see changes that I supported as Senator to reduce the unjust federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine crimes finally become law,” Clinton stated. However, she did not note, as Alexander pointed out, that her husband “supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.”
Clinton spoke about poverty without acknowledging the policies she supported while Bill Clinton was president, which, according to Alexander, included eliminating “Pell grants for prisoners seeking higher education to prepare for their release,” supporting “laws denying federal financial aid to students with drug convictions, and signing “legislation imposing a lifetime ban on welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense—an exceptionally harsh provision given the racially biased drug war that was raging in inner cities.” Bill Clinton “made it easier for public-housing agencies to deny shelter to anyone with any sort of criminal history.”
Why should Hillary Clinton be held accountable for what happened to black Americans in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton, even though these were her husband’s policies?
Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures,” Alexander argued. “That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized.”
What is even more significant about this act of protest by Black Lives Matter activists is that it came with a hashtag. In the past twelve hours, it’s shown there are a lot of concerns about “#WhichHillary” will govern if she wins the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. And, while the hashtag was intended specifically for issues important to the movement for black lives, it did not take long for the hashtag to be applied to her entire record and her positions on all issues.
Here is a sampling of some of the reactions:
Only recently did Clinton add a “racial justice” tab to her campaign website. In contrast, her opponent in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders, announced a racial justice platform back in August 2015, after activists from the movement for black lives confronted Democratic presidential candidates at Netroots Nation.
Finally, this is not the first time Black Lives Matter activists confronted Clinton. She had a “meeting” with them back in August during a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
While the activists did not quote her comment on “super-predators,” she was asked about how she has contributed to policies which have impacted impoverished communities of color.
She told activists, “I do think that there was a different set of concerns back in the ’80s and the early ’90s. And now I believe we have to look at the world as it is today and try to figure out what will work now. And that’s what I’m trying to figure out. That’s what I intend to do as president.”
She also said, “The war on drugs, which, you know, started back in the ’80s—right?—has had consequences. Increasing penalties for crime and ‘three strikes and you’re out’ and all of those kinds of actions have had consequences. But it’s important to remember—and I certainly remember—that there was a very serious crime wave that was impacting primarily communities of color and poor people. And part of it was that there was just not enough attention paid. So you know, you could argue that people who were trying to address that—including my husband, when he was president—were responding to the very real concerns of people in the communities themselves.”
During that meeting, Hillary Clinton did not have white upper class supporters standing around who would be bothered by activists pushing her on an issue. She coolly responded to their concerns, and what is clear is, despite the defects she perceives in past actions and policies, she is unwilling to criticize what was done by her husband. She is unwilling to meaningfully confront her role in perpetuating the very policies she now wants people to believe she will reform. She is also content with continuing much of the War on Drugs, which has been a key purveyor of the kind of oppression which more and more Americans recognize as completely appalling and outrageous.