The other day Bill Clinton needed to channel a little more of Barack Obama and a little less of Alec Baldwin when he was confronted by Black Lives Matter protesters. True one of the protesters called his a wife Hillary Clinton, candidate for Democratic nomination, a “fucking bitch.” Make no mistake I would have been down that guy’s throat in a New York minute if he had something similar about my husband. In fact, I would have unleashed Maria Meanmuthafuckah on his ass. However, I am not a former president and current world leader, and my husband is not running for the Democratic nomination.
I have given BLM my unequivocal support since its inception to which my tweets, blog entries, and donations will attest, and I’m not backing off that support like I have seen some of my fellow liberals doing lately. Look, I understand Clinton’s very human reaction for a couple of reasons. First his wife was maligned in a sexist, reprehensible manner. I don’t care how much a woman may be despised by some, words such as “bitch” and “cunt” are off limits for me. I simply will not call another woman obscenities such as those because if I can’t articulate my grievances against her, I need to shut up. But I digress. I’m just guessing here, but I imagine Clinton is tired of the bashing he and his wife are taking for the 1994 crime bill as if they are solely responsible for not just mass incarceration but the mass incarceration of black men especially.
Ignoring any historical and political frame of reference of an event is likely to lead to a discussion or debate that often lacks accuracy and nuance, which is exactly what is happening with the 1994 crime bill. As most students of history and politics know there was a crime wave in the 90's and an epidemic of gang violence in African American as well as Latino communities but not exclusive to those communities. The besieged communities led by their pastors pleaded with Feds to do something about it. Plenty of folks in social media are now recounting stories of family members, some in gangs & some not, who have been killed in gang wars. Additionally, members of the Congressional Black Caucus minus a very few put pressure on the Clinton administration to do something about the violence in their neighborhoods. I'm sure Bill was willing to do this because he like other Democrats were trying to pull white voters back into the Democratic party, exactly like Bernie Sanders is trying to do but more awkwardly so. But I also think most, including Pres. Clinton, were very concerned about what was happening. Some of the black leadership along with Sanders warned about the dire consequences of bill, especially the 3 strikes. Yet they all voted for the bill. Why would they do that? Because they are politicians that's why.
Now that the historical framing of bill is in place, let’s take a look at current incarceration rates. First, if all the prisoners in federal prisons were released today the population would drop from 2.2 million to 2 million. And most fed prisoners are not in there for drug crimes. That’s important because the 1994 crime bill affected only federal prisons, not state ones. Now it can reasonably argued that the states followed the Fed’s lead; however, the fact still remains that the vast majority of prisoners are held in state prisons which the Feds do not control. Of those state prisons, only 6% are privately run. Obviously, prison reform has to be at state level.
The day after the confrontation the former president sorta kinda did a mea culpa by claiming his interaction with the protesters could have been a teachable moment, but he and the protesters talked past each other. I think that’s a fair assessment but too little too late. This is what Clinton should have said and done:
- Stand quietly while not letting them see your anger.
- Use this as an opportunity to collect your thoughts (actually both you and SOS Clinton should have already developed a credible and sincere response).
- Jump in at the first lull and politely respond or better yet invite the leaders up to stage for a civil discussion.
- Then use the old Barack Obama line, “I’ve listened to you. Now I would like you to listen to me.” I personally have used that line with angry parents in many parent conferences, and it is very effective.
- Now Bill, you have your teachable moment, and after all you are the Secretary of Explaining Things. Don’t fritter it away. Be careful though. Don’t get defensive and try to lay the blame on others before you own the crime bill.
- Here’s where all your political skill comes into play. Move the blame off of your wife because she bears the least culpability of all.
- Narrow the topic to the discussion of her use of “super predator.” Explain it was in a speech explaining community policing, which is a good thing, and something communities are once again clamoring for. Never accuse BLM of defending gang members because that’s not what they’re doing. That right there was dumb. Discuss the word and its historical context and then apologize. Explain your wife didn’t understand the racism entrenched in the word. You know, you and she aren’t the first whites to step in a pile of poo by saying something irrefutably stupid to black folks. And you of all people have a lot of experience doing that. Really you should be wearing the kind of rubber boots my grandpa wore mucking out the hog pens.
- For the big finale offer some guidance. Suggest they start organizing rallies at their state houses and governors’ mansions to demand prison reform. Then offer to show up at some of these rallies and march and speak out with and for them. Donate money, say for transportation or printing signs and flyers. I mean your foundation has enough money and connections. Hell, for that matter, so do you.
Consider this penance, and maybe others who voted for the bill will follow your lead. Wouldn’t that be something? You and Bernie standing at the steps of the capitol building in Louisiana with Aaron Neville singing, “Angola Bound” at the microphone. Yep, that would really be something.