Now nearly 25 years later – except for that time we supported Barack – the African-American community has remained loyal to the Clinton’s. According to polls, Hillary is enjoying an 80% favorability rating from African Americans and with a disparity like that, it’s almost impossible for Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination. Do the Clinton’s deserve the community’s continued devotion? What has Hillary done to deserve the community’s support for her presidential campaign and what can the community expect in return?

Loyal Since 1992

     When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, black communities were suffering from a crime and crack epidemic. Jobs that had bolstered the Black middle class had all but disappeared and Black unemployment was sky high.

     During the Clinton years, the country turned around. The media household income in African-American households grew by 25% and African-American unemployment plummeted from 14.1 to 8.2%. Of course things were good for all communities, but for once, the Black community wasn’t left totally behind.

     That was the good new. The bad new is Bill Clinton implemented broad sweeping Crime Bill that tightened punishments for non-violent crime and turned America into the largest warehouse of prisoners in the world, and he championed a policy that desimated welfare, a safety net for the neediest Americans.

     When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. According to Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. 

     “Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs–those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets–but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible,” wrote Alexander in a recent article in the Nation. 

Clinton:

     •Supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine. The results of this policy were devastaing to the African American community, with a disproportionate number of Blacks arrested on crack cocaine drug offenses.

     •Signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes and put in place “three strikes” laws requiring life sentences for some three-time offenders, and

     •Authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. 

     By 2000, Alexander reports “prison admissions from drug offenses reached a level for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983.

     Clinton can’t be blamed exclusively for the onerous Crime Bill. The bill was approved by Congress with support of nearly two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus. Remember, at the time crime was rampant in urban communities and the bill’s supporters believed it was “imperfect but necessary.”

     Now, both Clintons have renounced the bill and expressed regrets for its passage. Bill says that he “overshot the mark” with his crime policies, and Hillary is running on a platform to overturn much of her husband’s Crime Bill. There are a few more of Bill’s policy reforms Hillary should consider overturning. The Clinton Administration:

     •Eliminated Pell grants for prisoners seeking higher education,

     •Supported laws denying federal financial aid to students with drug convictions,

     •Signed legislation imposing a life-time ban on welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense. and

     •Introduced the “one strike and you’re out” initiative that made it easier for public-housing agencies to deny shelter to anyone with an sort of criminal history. Under the policy, a whole family can be evicted from public housing because one member commits even a minor offense.

     Declaring “the end of welfare as we know it,” Bill Clinton dismantled the federal welfare system known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children. Too that point, the system had served as a safety net for the nation’s poorest citizens. Instead, Bill replaced the program with a block grant program to states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion. 

     By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps, wrote Alexander. During Clinton’s tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61%), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171%). According to sociologist Loic Wacquant “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.”

Is Bill’s Legacy Hillary’s?

     It’s hard decided how much blame or credit Hillary Clinton deserves for her husband’s policy legacy. In fact, it’s hard to decide how much blame or credit to give Bill for the products of his administration.

     It’s difficult to give Clinton credit for the booming economy. Unlike Barrack Obama, who championed policies and legislation to save a failing auto and financial industry, the financial boom during the Clinton administration was due mostly to technology advancements, including the introduction of the internet and the dot.com boom. It’s hard to say Clinton did much to bring about the change.

     On the other hand, it’s difficult to blame only Bill for the onerous Crime Bill and its harsh effect on the Black community. Remember two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus supported the bill and so did a great number of Black community activists who, desperate to clean up their communities, supported the “get tough on crime” movement. However more police and prison wasn’t all the Black community wanted. They also asked for, demanded: more drug treatment programs, better housing, job programs, economic-stimulus in their communities, and access to better healthcare. Clinton failed to deliver on an of those things and the community was forced to deal with increased police on the streets and a disproportionate incarceration rate. 

     Now, Hillary is running on a platform to reverse many of the policies put in place under her husband’s administration. Her Criminal Justice Platform calls for:

     •End of the era of mass incarceration, reform mandatory minimum sentences, and end private prisons. 

      •Encourage the use of smart strategies—like police body cameras—and end racial profiling to rebuild trust between law enforcement and communities.

     •Help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter society.

     All policies that her Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders also supports.

     Now back to the original questions. Do the Clinton’s deserve the Black community’s devotion? Their record doesn’t necessarily support it.

     What has Hillary done to deserve the community’s support for her presidential campaign? She’s pledged to overturn many of the devastating bills adopted under her husband’s administration, bu so has her opponent.

     Finally, what can the community expect in return? If Bill’s legacy is an indication, the community can’t expect much. However, if Hillary is to be judged on her own, like with any other candidate, the African-American community is going to have to stand up and demand, not expect, something in return for their loyal support, instead of once again being taken from granted. 

Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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