Saturday, December 29, 2012

I don't understand why Bill Clinton is a political figure I'm supposed to like as a Black person.

I'm not even going to touch on the RAGE that overtakes me whenever anyone refers to him as the first Black president (or when someone refers to Obama as the first LGBT president). I'm just going to put a few paragraphs from Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (pg. 57-58) here for you to ponder.
" 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton vowed that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he. True to his word, just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton chose to fly home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired Black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him until the morning. After the execution, Clinton remarked, 'I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I'm soft on crime.
"Once elected, Clinton endorsed the idea of a federal 'three strikes and you're out' law, which he advocated in his 1994 State of the Union address to enthusiastic applause on both sides of the aisle. The $30 billion crime bill sent to President Clinton in August 1994 was hailed as a victory for the Democrats, who 'were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.' The bill created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized for than $16 billion for state prison grants and expansion of state and local police forces. Far from resisting the emergence of the new caste system, Clinton escalated the drug war beyond what conservatives had imagined possible a decade earlier. As the Justice Policy Institute has observed, 'the Clinton Administration's 'tough on crime' policies resulted in the largest increases in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history.
"Clinton eventually moved beyond crime and capitulated to the conservative racial agenda on welfare. This move, like his 'get touch' rhetoric and policies, were part of a grand strategy articulated by the 'new Democrats' to appeal to the elusive White swing voters. In so doing, Clinton--more than any other president--created the current racial undercaste. He signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which 'ended welfare as we know it,' replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with a block grant to states called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, as well as a permanent, lifetime ban on eligibility for welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense--including simple possession of marijuana.
"Despite claims that these radical policy changes were driven by fiscal conservatism--i.e., the desire to end big government and slash budget deficits--the reality is that government was not reducing the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor. It was radically altering what the funds would be used for. The dramatic shift toward punitiveness resulted in a massive reallocation of public resources. By 1996, the penal budget doubled the amount that had been allocated to AFDC or food stamps. Similarly, funding that had once been used for public housing was being redirected to prison construction. During Clinton's tenure, Washington slashed funding for public housing by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent) and boosted corrections by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), 'effectively making the construction of prisons the nation's main housing program for the poor.'
"Clinton did not stop there. Determined to prove how 'tough' he could be on 'them,' Clinton also made it easier for federally assisted public housing projects to exclude anyone with a criminal history--an extraordinarily harsh step in the midst of a drug war aimed at racial and ethnic minorities. In his announcement of the 'One Strike and You're Out' Initiative, Clinton explained: 'From now on, the rules for residents who commit crime and peddle drugs should be one strike and you're out.' The new rule promised to be 'the toughest admission and eviction policy that HUD has implemented.' Thus, for countless poor people, particularly racial minorities targeted by the drug war, public housing was no longer available, leaving many of them homeless--locked out not only of mainstream society, but their own homes."

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