Protesters Highlight Bill Clinton’s Legacy of Expanding Mass Incarceration
Writer Yvette Carnell responds to Bill Clinton’s comments to protesters: “You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter”
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: I’m Jaisal Noor for the Real News Network in Baltimore.
Bill Clinton angrily told Black Lives Matter protesters they are, quote, defending the people who kill the lives you [say] matter, on Thursday, April 7, prompting criticism from Black voters whose support Hillary Clinton is counting on in her quest for the presidency.
BILL CLINTON: You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter. Tell the truth. You are defending the people who cause young people to go and take guns. There is a 13-year-old girl in Washington, D.C.
NOOR: The former president spent more than 10 minutes facing down the protesters at a campaign rally in Philadelphia for his wife after facing growing criticism that [the] 1994 crime bill he championed while president led to a surge in the imprisonment of Black people. In Philadelphia several protesters heckled the president mid speech and held signs, including one that read, Clinton crime bill destroyed our communities, and another that read, Black youth are not super predators. The protesters were removed from the event.
Footage of Hillary Clinton defending the bill in 1994 by calling young people in gangs, quote, super predators, who need to be, quote, brought to heel, has been widely circulated during the campaign by activists in [the] Black Lives Matter protest movement.
Well, now joining us to discuss all this is Yvette Carnell. She’s a writer for Your Black World and founder of Breaking Brown. Thanks so much for joining us.
YVETTE CARNELL: Thank you for having me.
NOOR: So, you voted for Sanders, but Clinton has gotten the majority of Black vote in many of the states that have voted so far, not all the states. She is leading by about a two-thirds margin in New York, which is going to be critical. You know, this campaign is heating up. New York is going to be of paramount importance if Sanders is going to stay in this race. But could this moment and moments like this, where protesters are kind of taking on Clinton’s legacy in creating and accelerating mass incarceration, and his response, which has been widely panned, do you think this could make a difference?
CARNELL: I do believe that Bill Clinton’s tone deaf response to the Black Lives Matter protesters could make a difference in terms of how Black people in New York ,especially, because that’s where we’re talking about right now, in terms of how they feel about Hillary Clinton and how they feel about the albatross around Hillary Clinton’s neck right now, which is basically Bill Clinton’s legacy, Bill Clinton’s presidency. What Bill Clinton did in that clip yesterday, what we saw is that he feels prickly. He feels upset that his legacy is being, as he views it, is being dragged through the mud, as it rightfully should be.
So I do think you see how dismissive he was, and you see how, in that there were a few things that stood out for me during that protest. The first thing that stood out for me is, you saw him make these sort of straw man arguments about Black lives mattering in Africa. You know, this is the man who was president during Rwanda. And Africa, we’re not talking about the continent of Africa, we’re talking about African Americans. So you see him try to do all sorts of things to kind of dance around, you know, his role in mass incarceration.
And it’s also interesting the way he back-pedaled. You know, he has said that, you know, mass incarceration and the role he played, he did not anticipate that these many people would be locked up. He did not anticipate this, and he has sort of say, you know, he apologized, to a certain extent, for mass incarceration. What you saw him, yesterday, do was basically defend it all over again. So now we’re starting this conversation all over again with Bill Clinton going out there and basically saying things that aren’t true.
NOOR: And so, you voted for Sanders, who also voted for the crime bill. Can you talk, but at the same time he did warn of these consequences, sort of did predict that it would lead to mass incarceration of people of color and poor people. Can you respond a little to that, because that’s what Clinton defenders say when people bring up, you know, the Clintons’ support for the crime bill. They say Sanders voted for it too.
CARNELL: I think Sanders, I think anyone would be wrong to say that Sanders, even Sanders’ supporters, to say that Sanders doesn’t deserve some criticism. I think you could even go further and say Congressional Black Caucus members deserve some criticism, but there’s one thing that you have to understand. He has said that, and Sanders has said that there was legislation in there, in terms of violence against women, things like that, that pushed him to support the bill. And politicians are going to be politicians, so I expect that. But what I have seen him do throughout his career, also, is push back against this sort of mass incarceration.
Now it’s not enough. Would I have preferred that he and other members of Congress not vote for this bill? Sure. I surely would have preferred that, and I think he deserves criticism for that. But I don’t think that this is an equivalency. I don’t think the man who championed this bill from the White House, who used his bully pulpit, who used the Southern strategy, you know, to kind of kick around Black people before he even got elected.
I don’t think you can compare that man who, in terms of the president Bill Clinton, in terms of what he did with the DNC as well to sort of say, listen, Black people are a captured demographic, they can’t go anywhere, so we can use them and we can diminish them, and we can use that to win over, you know, disaffected white Reagan voters. I don’t think you can compare that to what Bernie Sanders did in terms of that one vote on the crime bill. You can criticize Bernie Sanders on that, but trying to say that Bernie Sanders is just like President Clinton because he voted for it, that’s just a false equivalency in my book.
NOOR: We want to thank you so much for joining us.
CARNELL: Not a problem.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
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