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Denying Discrimination: Clintonian Political Calculus and the Culture of Hooey

Hooey –- silly talk/nonsense –- frequently has slimy characteristics and slime is slippery.

Former President Bill Clinton recently slipped on some silly talk when trying to dance around a slime trail oozing from his presidency during the 1990s.

This hooey moment came during Bill Clinton’s finger-wagging attempted smackdown of a Black Lives Matter activist who called-out Clinton during a campaign event for the devastating impact the 1994 federal anti-crime bill he sought and signed had on black communities nationwide.

Bill Clinton, when he dressed down the BLM activist with delight, defended his backing of that mass-incarceration accelerating/police abuse-aggravating measure. He also defended his wife Hillary for having tagged many black teens as “super predators” during her anti-crime lobbying as First Lady.

And Bill Clinton shoveled other such hooey as his assertion that BLM activists defend criminals and BLM activists are obstructionist n ways comparable to GOP members in Congress.

Bill Clinton’s defense of his 1994 crime bill came during a recent political campaign appearance for his wife Hilary in Philadelphia, PA, set to hold a critical Democratic primary between Hillary and Bernie Sanders next Tuesday, April 26. Philly is the same city where Bill Clinton in July 2015 had apologized for the damage done to blacks by that ’94 bill during a speech before the NAACP, America’s oldest civil rights organization.

During Bill Clinton’s 2015 NAACP speech he had said that 1994 bill “made the problem worse.” Yet, eight months later Clinton he is scolding BLM with the contention that his 1994 bill had actually improved conditions in black communities.

Clinton’s 2015 mea culpa to the NAACP and his indignant 2016 “mind your business kiddies” approach to BLM activists bristled with industrial strength hooey.

One significant reality that has fallen off the political radar screen is that Bill Clinton badly muffed addressing the racism that infects law enforcement –- from police brutality to bigoted Drug War enforcement –- during his presidency.

Civil rights leaders had begged Bill Clinton to address policy brutality throughout his presidency. Had he responded to those calls, abusive policing would have abated, thus minimizing that volatile issue years later that gave birth to the Black Lives Matters moment over a dozen years after the Clintons had left the White House.

Frustration with Bill Clinton’s inaction on police brutality forced African-American, Asian, Jewish and Latino leaders to hold a March 1999 press conference in Washington, DC. Those leaders requested action from Clinton on the ‘shameful epidemic’ of abusive policing. One proposed action was withholding federal funds from police departments with documented patterns of abuse.

Although Clinton called police brutality a “critical” issue, he never took any strong action like withholding federal funding to deter abusive police departments.

The National Urban League, one of the organizations that participated in that 1999 press conference, had called on Clinton in December 1996 to convene a national summit on police misconduct. Clinton did not act on the NUL’s request.

In 1998 the Human Rights Watch organization issued a massive report on police abuse in the United States that examined 14 of the nation’s largest cities. According to that HRW report police brutality was “one of the most serious, enduring and divisive human rights violations” in America. That 1998 HRW report faulted top officials -– federal and state -– for their failures to hold abusive police accountable. Those failures, the HRW reported stated, guaranteed police “impunity” for abuse from false arrests to fatal shootings.

The failure of Bill Clinton to act against police brutality, while shocking, is not surprising for a conservative-leaning politician who was notorioously seasoned in the practice of political calculus steeped in callousness.

Remember that Clinton, when a presidential candidate in 1992, had indicated support for addressing the then roiling issue of racial profiling. Yet as president, he did not take up the racial profiling issue until late in his second term and then only tepidly. Racial profiling was something Clinton clearly should knew about, not just from protests and news accounts but also from his time as governor of Arkansas. While governor of Arkansas a federal judge fined that state’s State Police for violating a court order to stop profiling non-whites.

One of Bill Clinton’s most callous actions as president was his 1995 failure to push for implementation of U.S. Sentencing Commission recommendations to end the extreme sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine. Federal law required a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of 5grams of crack while requiring the possession of 500grams of powder cocaine for the same five-year sentence.

That sentencing disparity coupled with racist Drug War enforcement practices swept thousands of blacks both users and low-level dealers) into federal prison for long mandatory sentences despite the fact that the majority of America’s crack users at the time were white, according to federal data.

Blacks, for example, were 98.2 percent of those convicted of crack offenses in the area of St. Louis, Missouri between 1988 and 1992. “Surely if (prosecutions) were really free of racism, unconscious or not, there would be more than one white defendant convicted for crack violations in the federal courts of the Eastern District of Missouri in three years,” stated Federal District Judge Clyde Cahill in a 1994 ruling.

An extensive February 1995 U.S. Sentencing Commission report refuted every rationale advanced by law enforcers and legislators for penalizing crack cocaine more substantially that powder cocaine, the substance used to manufacture crack which tended to be costlier and more popular among wealthier whites.

If then President Clinton had been truly concerned about justice many of the substantive findings in that Sentencing Commission report should have moved his fairness meter.

Commission findings included an “absence of comprehensive data substantiating” the sentencing disparity and that blacks comprised “the largest percentage of those affected by the penalties associated with crack cocaine.”

President Clinton did not act to end that festering facet of Drug War racism. He opted instead to side with Congressional Republicans in a joint rejection of the Sentencing Commission’s recommendations.

Before that October 1995 rejection, Congress and various presidents had accepted each of the previous 500 recommendations made by the Sentencing Commission. Capitol Hill and the White House rejected the one Commission recommendation that forthrightly addressed racism.

Adding insult to injury, Clinton’s refusal to end racist crack war policing and prosecution came just two weeks after he delivered a major speech on racism in the United States where he condemned America’s “less than just” justice system.

Bill Clinton and his candidate wife Hillary can shovel all the hooey they want trying to obscure the realities of the Clinton presidency’s record but as a famous boxer once said, a man (or woman) “can run, but he can’t hide.”

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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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