Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Lock The S.O.B.s Up

Joe Biden and The Get Tough Reckoning:

In September 1994, as President Bill Clinton signed the new Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in an elaborately choreographed ceremony on the south lawn of the White House, Joseph R. Biden Jr. sat directly behind the president’s lectern, flashing his trademark grin.
For Mr. Clinton, the law was an immediate follow-through on his campaign promise to focus more federal attention on crime prevention. But for Mr. Biden, the moment was the culmination of his decades-long effort to more closely marry the Democratic Party and law enforcement, and to transform the country’s criminal justice system in the process. He had won.
“The truth is,” Mr. Biden had boasted a year earlier in a speech on the Senate floor, “every major crime bill since 1976 that’s come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the State of Delaware: Joe Biden.”
And now ol' Lock 'Em Up Joe, who is currently in the lead for the Democratic race for president, is trying to walk back his rhetoric and record as one of the premiere charlatans on the issue of crime and punishment.
Mr. Biden arrived in the Senate in 1973 having forged close ties with black constituents but also with law enforcement, and bearing the grievances of the largely white electorate in Delaware. He courted one Southern segregationist senator, James O. Eastland of Mississippi, who helped him land spots on the committee and subcommittees dealing with criminal justice and prisons, and became a close friend and legislative partner of another, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
While Mr. Biden has said in recent days that he and Mr. Eastland “didn’t agree on much of anything,” it is clear that on a number of important criminal justice issues, they did. As early as 1977, Mr. Biden, with Mr. Eastland’s support, pushed for mandatory minimum sentences that would limit judges’ discretion in sentencing. But perhaps even more consequential was Mr. Biden’s relationship with Mr. Thurmond, his Republican counterpart on the judiciary panel, who became his co-author on a string of bills that effectively rewrote the nation’s criminal justice laws with an eye toward putting more criminals behind bars.

Over the next decade — first with Mr. Thurmond as chairman and then Mr. Biden after Democrats won back the Senate in 1986 — the pair wrote roughly a half-dozen crime bills together, laying the groundwork for three of the most significant pieces of crime legislation of the 20th century: the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, establishing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses; the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which dictated much harsher sentences for possession of crack than for powder cocaine; and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a vast catchall tough-on-crime bill that also included money for prevention, including Mr. Biden’s signature initiative, the Violence Against Women Act.

In 1989, with the violent crime rate continuing to rise as it had since the 1970s, Mr. Biden lamented that the Republican president, George H. W. Bush, was not doing enough to put “violent thugs” in prison. In 1993, he warned of “predators on our streets.” And in a 1994 Senate floor speech, he likened himself to another Republican president: “Every time Richard Nixon, when he was running in 1972, would say, ‘Law and order,’ the Democratic match or response was, ‘Law and order with justice’ — whatever that meant. And I would say, ‘Lock the S.O.B.s up.’”
I've taught this topic, these bills, the sheer monstrosity of the politics of punishment, for almost 20 years, and it's incredible how people are just now treating this like it's news or something. 

So two things then: number one, much has been made recently of his comments regarding his work with racists and segregationists like Eastland and Thurmond, as being evidence that he can work across the aisle with people he vehemently disagrees with, and how he should apologize for that (which he refused). What was overlooked in his "didn't agree on much of anything" comment was the vast support those two jugheads would play in creating the crime/punishment axis which sent more black people to prison in twenty years than had gone in the previous 100 years.

Second, the idea he did this with the support of the black community and its leaders during the 80's and 90's, and now denied by most black leaders today, is absolutely true. People forget the frenzy of the 80's and 90's and how the rush for Republicans and Democrats to jump in bed and outdo one another in terms of crime and punishment prowess was not just bipartisan, it was bi- or mutliracial. These laws were wildly popular in ALL communities during that time period, and the few dissenting voices were absolutely lost in the cacophony of chest-thumping and dick-waving (which is essentially what these bills absolutely were).
That tough-on-crime stance, Mr. Kaufman said, was “a very popular position to take in the African-American community.” But in interviews with community leaders in Wilmington, not everyone agreed. Though they remembered Mr. Biden fondly and said he remained widely popular in the black community, several stressed that their focus had been on systemic problems like economic inequality and failing schools — not on getting more police officers and prisons.
“We thought job opportunities would reduce the number of people on the corners resorting to drugs and crimes,” said the Rev. Dr. Vincent Oliver, a Wilmington pastor and longtime civil-rights activist.
Added James M. Baker, a former Wilmington mayor, who is black, “We knew you couldn’t arrest your way out of the problem.”
Sure, but again almost  no one actually said so. The African-American community was sold a bill of goods by its own leaders, who were more interested in having the ear of a powerful Senator, than they were the practical implications of what these bills would do to their communities (which btw, WE in academia and penology DID know, and tried to warn people about, but were squashed as well).
The legacy of the 1994 crime bill is mixed. While some studies show that it did lower crime, there is also evidence that it contributed to the explosion of the prison population. Biden aides and supporters often note that the trend toward mass incarceration began much earlier, in the 1970s, and that states — not the federal government — house an overwhelming majority of the nation’s inmates.
This is nonsense. There are NO studies showing the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act had an impact on crime rates. None. Weirdly, the article even notes before this assertion that, "violent crime had hit its peak in 1991, with 758 violent crimes per 100,000 Americans, federal statistics show — more than twice the 1970 rate. By the time the 1994 bill was passed, the crime rate was on the decline." Yeah, for three years prior. 

The VCCLEA was nothing more than re-election red meat for both parties, at the expense of human suffering and mass incarceration. Neither it nor the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of '86 or the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of '84 had ANYTHING to do with crime rates, and EVERYTHING to do with the mass incarceration of African-Americans.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how Lock 'Em Joe handles this. The disdain for these bills, and the dunderhead belief that "lock 'em up and throw away the key" is nothing more than red meat for the dumb political masses, is much greater now than at anytime since the advent of the get tough on crime movement in the 60's. Trump's election viewed as an anomaly aside, the dehumanizing and sheer sinister nature of this rhetoric has finally caught up with people, and "smart on crime" and other reentry initiatives have become bipartisan the last few years.

It will be interesting to see if the Democratic party base, which benefited from this self-imposed human misery for decades (including the Obama/Biden years), will throw Joe under the bus and complete the "reckoning" going on*, or whether he'll survive this as he has other attempts to knock him out of the lead position so far. First debates are tonight and it will be interesting to see how much of his legislative record is appropriately attacked or whether they'll stick with the ageist, handsy, #MeToo pc bromides and try and derail him that way.

* Side note: unless you're from the south or really like R.E.M. you should never use the word reckoning as some sort of euphemism for payback.

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