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Did Hillary Clinton Call Black Youth Super Predators?

At a recent campaign fundraiser in Charleston, South Carolina, Hillary Clinton was speaking on the topic of Criminal Justice Reform when Black Lives Matter activist and Bernie Sanders supporter Ashley Williams, her back to Clinton, unfurled a cloth banner that read: ‘We have to bring them to heel’.  Williams was referring to a 1996 speech Clinton made at Keene College during Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign.  Williams demanded an apology from Clinton for the mass incarceration of black people and for the use of the word ‘super-predator’ to describe them.  Hillary Clinton owes no apology.  She did not label black youth as ‘super-predators’.  Factors outside of her control contributed to mass incarceration.  It’s important to consider the broader context of not only juvenile crime and drug abuse, but also the entire 1996 speech (Full transcript), along with the origination of the word ‘super-predator’. 

It is inaccurate to single out the 1994 Anti-Crime bill, supported by Sanders and Clinton, as the driving force behind mass incarceration.  Many bills were passed in the 1980s and 1990s to address the unprecedented rise in violent crime.  In the mid-90s, there was non-stop media coverage of heinous juvenile crime that resulted in cries for juvenile justice reform.  The media sensationalized school shootings and familial murders.  In 1993, the trials of the Menendez brothers aired on Court TV and became a media sensation.  After shooting their own father in the back of the head with a shotgun, they riddled their mother’s face text and body with so many bullets, she was unrecognizable.  After they murdered their parents, they showed no remorse.  They went to the movies followed by dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.  There were other highly publicized familial murders that included the story of a teen who stabbed his grandparents to death on their ranch.

In August 1995, Attorney General Janet Reno was briefed on the theme of rising rates of juvenile homicide and other violent offenses by youth.  The 1995 Bureau of Justice Statistics ‘Trends in Juvenile Crime’ report provided alarming statistics on crimes committed by black and white youth: “From 1985 to 1994, the rate of murder committed by teens, ages 14-17, increased 172 percent. The rate of killing rose sharply for both black and white male teenagers, but not for females.”  The report predicted “a future wave of youth violence that will be even worse than that of the past ten years.”  

Princeton Professor John Dilulio coined the term ‘super-predator’ to describe criminal youth who had no regard for their victims.  In November 1995, two months before Clinton’s speech at Keene College, Dilulio’s article ‘The Coming of the Super-Predators’ was published in the Weekly Standard. 


Dilulio broadly applied the Super-Predator label to young black, white, Latino, and Asian males His research included government crime statistics and interviews with district attorneys, police, criminologists, and convicted felons.  In fact, it was a convicted felon he credited for labeling criminal youth as predators.  While speaking to a group of inmates, many of them black males, serving life sentences at a New Jersey maximum security prison, one prisoner said, “I was a bad-ass street gladiator, but these kids are stone-cold predators.”  The following is an excerpt from Dililulio’s article:

We’re cheap jerseys talking about elementary school youngsters who pack guns instead of lunches. We’re talking about kids who have absolutely no respect for human life and no sense of the future. While the trouble will be greatest in black inner-city neighborhoods, other places are also certain to have burgeoning youth-crime problems cheap jerseys that will spill over into upscale central-city districts, inner-ring suburbs, and even the rural heartland.

The Philadelphia District Attorney recounted a recent town hall meeting in a white working-class section of the city that has fallen on hard times: “They’re becoming afraid of their own children…And they’re asking me what am I going to do to control their children.” All of the research indicates that Americans are sitting atop a demographic crime bomb.

In Los Angeles, there are now some 400 youth street gangs organized mainly along racial and ethnic lines: 200 Latino, 150 black, the rest white or Asian. In 1994, their known members alone committed 370 murders and over 3,300 felony assaults.  But what is really frightening everyone from D.A.s to wholesale jerseys demographers, old cops to old convicts, is not what’s happening now but what’s just around the corner-namely, a sharp increase in the number of super crime-prone young males.

Most predatory street criminals — black and white, adult and juvenile, past and present — have grown up in abject moral poverty. The abject moral poverty that creates super-predators begins very early in life in homes where unconditional love en is nowhere but unmerciful abuse is common.  Moral poverty is the poverty of being without loving, capable, responsible adults who teach you right from wrong…They place zero value on the lives of their victims, whom they reflexively dehumanize as just worthless “white trash” if white, or by the usual racial or ethnic epithets if black or Latino.

On the horizon, therefore, are tens of thousands of severely morally impoverished juvenile super-predators. They are perfectly capable of committing the most heinous acts of physical violence for the most trivial reasons.  No one in academia is a bigger fan of incarceration than I am. In deference to public safety, we will have little choice but to pursue genuine get-tough law-enforcement strategies against the super-predators.

News outlets picked up the word ‘super-predator’ and began reporting about the impending juvenile crime epidemic.  One week prior to Hillary Clinton’s speech at Keene College, Time Magazine published an article titled, “Now for the Bad News: A Teenage Time Bomb?” The article stoked fears about coming super-predators. Americans were inundated with sensationalized crime stories.

The 1996 Democratic Party platform emphasized economic security, affordable healthcare, accessible college, putting families first, campaign finance reform, environmental protection, and fighting crime and drugs.  In the January 1996 speech at Keene College, First Lady Hillary Clinton outlined seven challenges facing America that reflected the priorities of the Democratic Party Platform.  

She spoke about strengthening the American family by putting programs in place to help parents spend more time with their children.  She advocated for: a higher minimum wage and per child tax credit to help working families, making college more affordable and accessible, protecting children from violence on TV, reducing teen pregnancy, barring tobacco advertisers from marketing to children, protecting the environment for future generations, and leading the global fight for freedom and peace by being a peacemaker, not a global policeman.  She said campaign finance reform was essential to regulate lobbyists.

On the topic of healthcare, Clinton said, “We should reform health insurance and we should do so in a way that enables people to take their insurance from job to job and to keep it when someone has gotten sick and not have it taken out from under them when they need it most. We also must protect Medicare and Medicaid. They are the safety nets for millions and millions of Americans.”

On the topic of schools, Clinton stressed the importance of a partnership between parents, teachers, and communities. She recommended that schools and employers work around working parents schedules to allow them to attend parent teacher conferences.  She advocated for school uniforms in public schools: “We already know that where uniforms have been tried…school violence has gone down, gang-related disputes over clothes have gone down, academic performance has gone up.”

On the topic of crime, gangs, and Southwark drug cartels, Clinton said:

The fourth challenge is to take back our streets Бустер from crime, gangs, and drugs. We have been making progress on this count as a nation because of what local law enforcement officials are doing, because of what citizens and neighborhood patrols are doing, we’re making some progress. Much of it is related to the initiative called Community Policing.  We have finally gotten more police officers on the street. That is one of the goals the President had when he pushed the crime bill that was passed in 1994. He promised 100,000 police and we’re moving in that direction and we can already see that it makes a difference because if we have more police interacting with people, having them on the streets, we can prevent crimes. We can prevent petty crimes from turning into something worse.

We also have to have an organized effort against gangs, just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on, they are often connected to big drug cartels. They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kind of kids called “super-predators”- no conscious, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have got to bring them to heel. The President has asked the FBI to launch a very concerted effort against gangs everywhere. In addition, he has appointed a new drug czar.  He is one of the most distinguished active military Generals we have in our country. He has already proven he knows how to interdict drugs because of his command of South American activity on behalf of the United States. General McCaffrey will make a big difference. I believe it is now time for all of us to know what we can do individually to be part of this anti-crime, anti-gangs, anti-drug effort.

It’s important to evaluate the excerpt within context.  ‘Super-predator’ as defined by John Dilulio was not a racially-charged word.  The 1996 National Youth Gang Survey revealed, gang demographics were as follows: Hispanics accounted for 44% of all U.S. gang members, African Americans for 35%, whites for 14%, and Asians for 5%. The challenge Clinton outlined was in response to the dramatic increase of gang-related homicides in the late 1980s and 1990s.  According to FBI data, gang-related homicides increased five-fold from 1985 to 1993.  From 1989 to 1993, one-third of Los Angeles gang-related homicides were drive-by shootings that sometimes resulted in deaths of innocent bystanders. In 1995 alone, Chicago and Los Angeles accounted for more than 1,000 gang homicides.  The Texas-Mexico border became a hot spot for gang-related drug-trafficking activity.

Government agencies conducted studies between 1986 and 1995 that concluded gangs were instrumental in trafficking crack cocaine. Gang involvement in drug-trafficking led to an increase in youth violence, including homicide.  Crack addiction was at an all-time high.  In July 1986, during a Congressional hearing, Walter Fauntroy, a close ally of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., described the Crack Cocaine epidemic as a plague threatening civilized society.  Public pressure to address the Crack Cocaine epidemic was intense.  In August 1986, an anti-crack rally in New York City drew 2,000 activists from black communities. They carried signs advocating a War on Crack.

Legislation, including the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act signed into law by Reagan and the 1994 Anti-Crime Bill signed into law by Clinton, was introduced to reduce crime and gang violence. Communities of color and the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus supported both crime bills.   

The 1986 Anti-Drug bill created mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking that included more severe penalties for crack cocaine possession than powder cocaine possession.  Congress justified the disparity based on unfounded fears that crack cocaine was more addictive and caused more harm to babies born to addicted mothers.

Studies conducted between 1995 and 1997, concluded that crack cocaine was no more addictive than powder cocaine.  In 1995, the U.S. Sentencing Commission concluded that as a result of the disparity in sentencing, thousands of people, mostly African Americans, received disproportionately harsh prison sentences.  

As a Senator, Hillary Clinton co-sponsored legislation to reverse policies that disproportionately hurt black communities. In 2001, she co-sponsored a the ‘Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act’ (S.1711) to address the disparity in crack-cocaine sentencing.  In the same year, she co-sponsored the End Racial Profiling Act (S.989).  She and then Senator Obama co-sponsored the 2007 Second Chance Act (S.1060) to expand services, including rehab programs, to offenders and their families.  In subsequent years, additional legislation was introduced to address sentencing disparities.  

The bill that became known as the ‘Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994’ (HR.3355) was initially written and introduced in the Senate by Joe Biden in 1993 (S.1488, S.1607).  An intense debate broke out between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.  Republicans demanded more funding for prisons, limited habeas corpus petitions, stricter mandatory minimum sentencing, and expanded application of the death penalty.   Democrats stressed the importance of gun control measures, funding school and community programs to prevent drugs and violence, and providing drug treatment to offenders. 

Although most Congressional Black Caucus members supported the anti-crime measures, some protested the expansion of the death penalty along with other policies that would adversely impact black communities.  In the house version of the bill, civil rights advocate Don Edwards (D-California) added an amendment to address racial discrimination in capital punishment sentencing.  Orrin Hatch (R-UT) argued against including Edwards’ Racial Justice amendment.  It was stripped from the Senate version of the bill.  Instead, Hatch supported an amendment introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to make it harder for prisoners to bring civil rights actions.  The amendment passed the Senate; it was co-sponsored by Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Don Nickles (R-OK), and Conrad Burns (R-MT). 

Other amendments introduced by Trent Lott (R-MS) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) included increased mandatory minimum sentencing and implementation of ‘three-strikes’ laws that mandated life imprisonment for offenders convicted of a third violent felony.  Lott’s ‘three-strikes’ amendment passed the Senate with unanimous support (91-1).

The Anti-Crime Bill had some redeeming qualities.  It included amendments to strengthen gun control laws.  It also included funding for programs that helped women, children, at-risk youth, and drug-addicted prisoners.  Examples of those provisions include:

Family and Community Endeavor Schools Grant Program – Allocates specified sums to provide children with after-school and summer programs that include supervised sports and extracurricular and academic programs.

Local Crime Prevention Block Grant Program – Funding to support education, training, research, prevention, diversion, treatment, and rehabilitation programs to prevent juvenile violence, juvenile gangs, and the use and sale of illegal drugs by juveniles; jobs programs that provide permanent employment opportunities for disadvantaged young adults age 16 through 25; and midnight sports league programs that require each player to attend employment counseling, job training, and other education classes.

Assistance for Delinquent and At-Risk Youth – Funding to support the development and operation of projects to provide residential services to youth, aged 11 to 19, who have dropped out of school, have come into contact with the juvenile justice system, or are at risk of doing so. Directs that such services include activities designed to: (1) increase self-esteem; (2) provide assistance in making healthy and responsible choices; (3) improve academic performance pursuant to a plan jointly developed by the applicant and the school; and (4) provide vocational and life skills.

Urban Recreation and At-Risk Youth –  improve recreation facilities and expand recreation services in urban areas with a high incidence of crime, to help deter crime through the expansion of recreation opportunities for at-risk youth.

Substance Abuse Treatment of prisoners in Federal and State Prisons funding for developing and implementing substance abuse treatment programs in correctional facilities.

Funds Violence Against Women Act –  increases penalties for repeat Sex Offenders, and establishes a Sex Offender Registry.

Community Programs on Domestic Violence – provides grants to nonprofit private organizations to establish projects in local communities involving many sectors of each community to coordinate intervention and prevention of domestic violence.

Assistance to Victims of Sexual Assault – Allows States to use block grant provisions for rape prevention and education programs conducted by rape crisis centers… to help prevent sexual assault.

Crimes Against Children – established a Missing and Exploited Children’s Task Force, increased penalties for assaults against children, and set penalties for international trafficking in child pornography.

Among the most vocal critics of the wholesale mlb jerseys Anti-Crime bill were Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and House Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA).  In exchange for Republican support of the bill, Gingrich demanded billions of dollars in cuts to crime-prevention programs that would help black communities.  As the bill was being debated, the NRA launched a fervent campaign to lobby against gun control amendments.

Many attempts were made to block the bill.  After one such attempt, President Clinton expressed his disappointment that Congress couldn’t reach a compromise to address an issue so important to Americans.  He said, “I would be disappointed if the House of Representatives turned its back on the toughest and largest attack on crime in the history of our country at a time when the American people say it is the most important issue to them, but it is especially disheartening to see 225 members of the House participate in a procedural trick orchestrated by the National Rifle Association…designed with only one thing in mind, to put the protection of particular interests over the protection of ordinary Americans.”

The final version of the bill passed the Senate down party lines.  Most Republicans and a couple of conservative Democrats sided with the NRA and voted against the bill.  Vice-President Joe Biden and 2016 Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and John Kasich voted in favor of the bill.  Hillary Clinton supported the bill as First Lady.  Sanders publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the bill, but voted for it due to amendments he supported that included an Assault Weapon ban and funding for Violence Against Women.  After the bill passed, Clinton said, “The long, hard wait is finally over. The American people are going to get the action against crime they have been demanding for over six years.” In September 1994, the ‘Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act’ was signed into law.

In an article written by German Lopez, he refutes the claim that the 1994 Anti-Crime bill alone resulted in mass incarceration.  He points out that state policies, not federal policies, led to mass incarceration.  Many state policies predated the 1994 anti-crime law.   

The cause of mass incarceration was a culmination of unprecedented violent crime, public outcry for tougher crime laws, and a combination of state and federal policies that date back to Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs.  Nixon launched the War on Drugs on the heels of desegregation.  The War on Drugs opened the flood gates to mass incarceration and institutionalized racism.

The blame for mass incarceration must be shared by state and federal policy makers who draft unjust drug laws that favor punishment over rehabilitation, police departments that consistently discriminate against minority communities, and judges and juries who convict black offenders at higher rates with harsher sentences.  When it comes to violent crimes, such as rape, murder, and assault, personal responsibility must not be overlooked: those committing violent crimes must not be absolved of the role they play in their own incarceration.   

Hillary Clinton is not responsible for mass incarceration, nor did she demonize black youth in her 1996 speech. She released the following statement in response to the activist’s demand for an apology on both counts:

In that speech, I was talking about the impact violent crime and vicious drug cartels were having on communities across the country and the particular danger they posed to children and families.  Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.

My life’s work has been about lifting up children and young people who’ve been let down by the system or by society.  Kids who never got the chance they deserved.  And unfortunately today, there are way too many of those kids, especially in African-American communities.  We haven’t done right by them.  We need to.  We need to end the school to prison pipeline and replace it with a cradle-to-college pipeline.

As an advocate, as First Lady, as Senator, I was a champion for children.  And my campaign for president is about breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of all kids, so every one of them can live up to their God-given potential.

In the statement, Clinton spoke of her life-long record of helping disadvantaged kids, but she didn’t set the record straight about the lies being propagated by her opponents.  Sanders’ supporters continuously misrepresent her record on racial justice and civil rights issues, while hailing Sanders as a Civil Rights hero due to his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement to desegregate housing on the campus of the University of Chicago in 1962 and 1963.  They fail to provide evidence of his commitment to racial justice beyond the 1960s.

Black leaders in Sanders’ home state of Vermont say they were invisible to Sanders. As Dr. Joe Madison pointed out on his Sirius XM Radio Show: “there are more bears in Vermont than there are black people.”  While 95% of Vermont’s population is white, Vermont has the 4th highest black incarceration rate.  This begets the question: what policies has Sanders introduced and championed in his 35 years in office to help black communities?  Black Lives Matter activists and Sanders supporters need to hold Sanders to the same standard to which they hold other candidates.  Up to this point, they have not.  

In an interview with Democracy Now, Williams responded to Clinton’s issued statement:

Her response is insufficient, and it doesn’t really address my real concerns. She apologized specifically for her word choice and the words that she chose to use, but I want her to apologize to black people for mass incarceration. I want her to apologize to black communities and other communities of color for supporting the policies.

I want each candidate to address the inconsistencies that may exist with their record, especially in terms of policies that affect communities of color and black communities and mass incarceration. Voters have a responsibility, as well…it’s our job to look for these inconsistencies and the consistencies. And it’s our job to make an informed decision at the polls.

After a photo of Williams with Sanders supporter, Cornel West, surfaced, there was concern that the Bernie Sanders campaign had orchestrated the protest the night before the South Carolina primary to damage Clinton’s support among black voters.  The South Carolina primary results revealed that attempts to discredit Clinton’s long history of commitment to issues that impact black communities had no effect on voters.  Clinton won 74% of the vote in South Carolina.  Black voters turned out in record numbers and overwhelmingly supported Clinton.

There will be no shortage of activists clamoring for their 15 minutes of fame at upcoming Campaign rallies.  Clinton should expect further opportunities to provide more specifics on her civil rights record.  If voters heed Ashley Williams’ advice and work to become more informed about the candidates’ records, they will find that no Presidential candidate has a stronger record on civil rights than Hillary Clinton.

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