Who Supported the 1994 Crime Bill?

Farah Stockman reports that the generation gap between Hillary supporters and Bernie supporters extends to African-Americans too. And the 1994 crime bill is part of it:

[Caryl] Brock said she had been a social worker in charge of the removal of children from dangerous homes in the South Bronx and Spanish Harlem in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when crack tore a path of destruction through those neighborhoods….She said she was relieved when the crime bill passed. In addition to providing more money for prisons and the police, the law banned assault weapons and offered funding for drug courts and rehabilitation. “Because of the crime bill,” she said, “anybody that wanted rehabilitation, we could process them and get them a detox bed in a hospital.”

Ms. Brock’s comments underscore a sometimes overlooked reality in today’s re-examination of the crime bill: The legislation was broadly embraced by nonwhite voters, more enthusiastically even than by white voters. About 58 percent of nonwhites supported it in 1994, according to a Gallup poll, compared with 49 percent of white voters.

Mr. Clinton has seemed rattled at times as he tries to defend the measure to younger African-Americans in an era in which concerns about mistreatment by the police and mass incarceration have eclipsed the fear of crime in many black communities.

And among these younger voters, the Clintons lack the deep admiration that they enjoy from previous generations of African-Americans. In the Democratic primary contests so far, 92 percent of black voters 65 and older cast ballots for Mrs. Clinton, compared with 45 percent of black voters under age 25, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.

Obviously everyone should vote for whoever they want. But this piece highlights one thing that continues to eat at me: judging the past by the standards of the present. The 1994 crime bill was hardly supported unanimously, and there was plenty of criticism of it at the time. It’s fine to take note of that. But the plain fact is that 1994 was a different time: crime was rampant and people were scared—including black people—and most of them supported the crime bill, warts and all. Were they wrong to do so? Maybe. But you need to seriously engage with what the world was like in 1994 and what they could reasonably have known about it before you condemn them.

A world where violent crime is no longer an obsession, replaced instead by DWB and Ferguson-style police shootings, calls for different responses. No one would propose anything like the 1994 crime bill anymore. But in 1994 things looked a lot different. You need to understand that deep in your gut before you lash out at the folks who supported it.


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