Joe Biden, black men, and the 1994 Crime Bill

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During last night’s debate, Donald Trump blamed Joe Biden for the increase in mass incarceration of black men in the 1990s based on the 1994 Crime Bill.  I continue to see black men on social media post meme after meme that blame Joe Biden for the incarceration of black men.  These memes have become so widespread that black men are supporting Donald Trump this election cycle by as much as 24%.  Is Joe Biden to blame or is Donald Trump, as he so often does, prevaricating to manipulate low information voters?  Let us have a dispassionate conversation about the Crime Bill and Joe Biden’s culpability.

I am not going to discuss the specifics of the bill, but rather the incorrect assumptions and the attribution to Joe Biden as the sole cause of the 1994 Crime Bill’s existence.  This bill was passed in both the House and the Senate before it was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.  Do you know how many people voted for this bill in both Houses of Congress?

Two hundred and thirty-five member of the House of Representatives voted for the 1994 Crime Bill, and sixty-one members of the Senate voted for this bill.  If you look at who voted, most of the votes were from Democrats.  So, what was going on in the late 80s and early 90s that this bill was passed?  What was happening in the inner cities of America that was so dire that there was a national push for more police and tougher sentences in our criminal justice system?  Rather than list the issues I will provide some movie examples that capsulize the inner city from this era.

Any black person who is reading this and is from generation X remembers these movies.  You also remember what was transpiring on the street of urban America at the time.  These movies were often tame compared to what was taking place in real life.  Americans in black inner cities along with black mayors were begging the federal government to step in and protect law abiding citizens.  In fact, the violence was going on so long that the general sentiment was that the federal government was either indifferent or worse racist for not increasing the police presence in black America.  The Democrats in Washington D.C. listened to their constituents and gave them what the demanded: law and order.

In retrospect the response was too onerous and had a great deal of collateral damage.  Low level drug offenders and users were sent to prison for decades under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that the Crime Bill codified.  Joe Biden, once the hero who bravely lead the Congress to enact the laws that black communities were demanding throughout the country, was now a pariah.  According to the memes he was just a democratic racist and an opportunist who strategically served as Barack Obama’s vice president to leverage that relationship in some future presidential aspiration.

Again, this does not factor in the truths about the actual impact of the 1994 Crime Bill and how it impacted black Americans in practical terms.  While the bill that was passed in Congress provided guidelines to states for sentencing and additional funds for police officers and prison facilities, a small percentage of black Americans were impacted by the passage of this law at the federal level.  To say it another way, the bill passed in Congress applied to federal sentencing guidelines.  Charges like murder or selling drugs on a street corner are state crimes and would not have been directly impacted by the passage of this law.

The Prison Policy Initiative has a fascinating report on mass incarceration that goes into granular detail, but I want to concentrate on some of their data about state and federal incarceration numbers.

If you analyze the numbers, you immediately see that 9.8 percent of American are incarcerated in federal prison while 27.43 percent of Americans are in local jails and 56.13 percent of Americans are incarcerated in state prisons.  While 100,000 Americans are in federal prison for drug-related offenses, 311,000 Americans are incarcerated in state and local jails for the same offense.  While this data does not provide the racial demographics of these populations, we can plainly see that most people in this country are in prison at the local and state level. 

What can we conclude from this?  If most Americans are in local and state prisons, then the 1994 Crime Bill is not responsible for their incarceration and by extension Joe Biden is not responsible for their incarceration.  I would go further and state that if we as black men are going to hold Joe Biden responsible for what he did in 1994, then shouldn’t we hold Donald Trump responsible for what he has done in the last four years as president?

What has he done?  He has called the 54 countries of Africa shitholes.  He has specifically withheld federal resources from Democratic states and cities where black Americans reside.  He has attacked every black woman who does not agree with him low IQ and unintelligent.  He has one black member of his cabinet and his administration has not nominated one black judge.  He does not speak to black scholars and intellectuals when “seeking to engage” with the black community.  Rather he goes to the likes of Kanye West, Ice Cube, and Steve Harvey.  He has shown what he thinks about black America and black men should not reward him with their vote.

Black men ask yourselves one question.  If black men are only 6.5% of the population, and he has not reached out to black men during his entire tenure, why do you believe that he is reaching out to you eleven days before the election?  Before voting in this election, educate yourself with facts.

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