Cory Booker is wrong about Sanders (and Hillary) on minority incarceration

Cory Booker is wrong about Sanders (and Hillary) on minority incarceration February 26, 2016

With the Democratic primary vote taking place tomorrow in South Carolina, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ camps have been very active there recently. What is imperative for both sides is winning minority votes, being both candidates are white and need to appeal to a demographic they don’t personally identify with.

Cory Booker, a senator from New Jersey, recently went out to speak to groups advocating for Hillary Clinton. The problem is, with Clinton’s campaign, she has a noticeable track record with causing harm to the minority groups of the country (like stating “We have to bring them to heel” and calling minorities, specifically African Americans, “super predators”). So, in Booker’s presentation, he made a not-so-subtle jab at Bernie Sanders and how racial issues, specifically incarceration of African Americans, are not merely a concern of Hillary’s.

In the speech he gave, Booker states,

Vermont has 1 percent African Americans. But their prison population is 11 percent black! You want to speak about injustice—I see campaigns and candidates running all over this country. Don’t you come to my communities, talk about how much you care, talk your passion for criminal justice, and then I don’t hear from you after an election. And I didn’t hear from you before the election!

First, to throw out numbers like these lacking context is, not only lazy but completely irresponsible. This does not take into consideration things like recidivism rates, opportunities provided to prevent crime in the first place (like mental health care, employment opportunities for minorities, or even to those already having gone through the prison system, and better education to minorities early on so as to prevent future risk for criminality). In a general sense, Vermont’s prison population has diminished by 17% in the last five years. That’s thanks largely in part to Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin.

What’s even more telling about the prison population is that Vermont’s prison population remained relatively low, around 1000 inmates in the state, until the early nineties. Do you know what changed? The implementation of stricter enforcement around drug laws thanks to the Omnibus Crime Bill, which did, among other things, removed education from inmates, stronger drug enforcement policies, and even allowing the death penalty for more crimes. The rise in crime in Vermont, from 1990 until 2004 when the rise plateaued, was due to drug crimes.

Governor Shumlin noted that while the recent prison reform helped, crime had actually dropped around 30% before, but “tougher sentencing for drugs and other crimes led to overflowing prisons.”

So how does this all connect with race and the issue of a larger African American population in prison? Well, first, it starts with Richard Nixon and his “War on Drugs” legislation. While this was the first step in that direction, both Bill and Hillary Clinton pushed for the Omnibus bill. And, during this time frame, the incarceration rate rose sixteen times that of any previous decade during the twentieth century!

It was with the passing of this bill that we saw things like the ” 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.” Because of this, the three strikes law, and the expansion of crime now applicable for the death penalty, Human Rights Watch documented that “in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983.”

And it was during the presentation, and signing into law, of the Omnibus bill that Hillary Clinton, not only advocated for it, she used the racially loaded statements that she was held accountable for recently when a Black Lives Matter activist held up a sign at a speech she gave. This activist, Ashley Williams, was not only given zero chance to address the issue when Clinton made a claim to be willing to speak, Williams was guided out of the event and Clinton responded with “Back to the issues.”

So, first, if there is any sort of discrepancy between Sanders’ message of inclusiveness and Vermont’s incarceration rate of African Americans, it is not because he somehow failed to implement prison reform. It was because the Clinton family implemented stricter law enforcement that, intentionally or not, made it easier for law enforcement to target African American and minority populations. Second, if we are going to hold Sanders accountable for the state, then let’s look at how Clinton, as a senator in New York, affected minority populations across the country.

While we have already demonstrated how she supported and pushed for bills her husband wrote into law as President, Hillary is also responsible for signing off on bills that created issues and legal trouble for minorities as a senator. First, the Patriot Act signed into law shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001, was supported by Hillary, but not by Bernie Sanders. As a result of the Patriot Act being signed into law, a rise in hate crimes against Arab-Americans rose to an extraordinary level. One news source wrote that, of 1073 crimes reported, only a few hundred were investigated, involving instances of “beatings [or] cruel verbal abuse of Muslim and Arab inmates in federal detention centers.” There were also roughly 14,000 instances where

men who complied with the order were deported, forced to leave their families behind–most for minor immigration violations–all without generating a single charge of terrorism. Arab-Americans are three times more likely to have experienced racial profiling than whites, but racial profiling against all nonwhites has been on the rise.
“Prior to 9/11, racial profiling was frequently referred to as ‘driving while Black,'” the Amnesty report stated. “Now, the practice can be more accurately characterized as driving, flying, walking, worshipping, shopping or staying at home while Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, Muslim or of Middle-Eastern appearance.”

The Patriot Act also led to instances where individuals, most notably Arab-Americans and South Asian citizens, could be detained and not permitted legal representation in secret locations. Then, in 2003, the FBI found themselves in a position where they needed to create an Arab American Advisory Committee after individuals, perceived to be Arab, became victims of hate crimes. A crime trend which increased by 1700% since the signing of the Patriot Act into law.

There is also the TARP bill, signed by George W. Bush in October of 2008, and Hillary Clinton signed off on this as well. TARP was intended to help with the economic crisis by providing finances to the banking systems to help their client base. However, because of loose wording or the view most, or possibly all, of the banks saw, they invested the money back into their own business. Some companies that received nearly 300 billion in relief invested 114 million in lobbying and campaign costs. They also used the money to give their top executives “salaries, cash bonuses, stock options, and benefits including personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships, and professional money management.” These all totaled out to roughly 1.6 billion dollars.

This is certainly fodder to understand why it’s important to get the Goldman Sachs transcripts. So how does this relate to race and racism from the Hillary camp? Well, largely because this is the situation that helped contribute to the recession the country faced just a few short years ago. More importantly, it helped pull the rug out from under minority populations who weren’t doing that well prior to the recession to begin with.

According to American Progress,

Minority workers have fewer employment opportunities, lower wages, or both as compared to their white counterparts. This leaves them with lower incomes and slower income growth. As a result, minorities are less well situated than white families to save and build wealth that would provide an economic cushion in bad economic times. When hard economic times hit, minorities find themselves in a precarious economic situation sooner than is the case for white families…The percent of African Americans living in poverty increased even more than that of both whites and Hispanics between 2000 and 2007, growing at an average rate of 0.7 percent each year. The percent of African Americans living in poverty jumped from 19.3 percent in 2001 to 24.4 percent in 2007, meaning that the share of African Americans living below the poverty line in 2007 was nearly three times as large as that of whites (8.2 percent)… In 2000, the homeownership rate for whites was 73.8, and in 2007, their homeownership rate stood at 75.2 percent, as compared to only 49.7 percent for Hispanics. The African-American homeownership rate was the same in 2007 as it was in 2000, standing at 47.2 percent.

So the recession led to those who were already without now at a greater disadvantage. Or, at the very least, at no greater position than before. And with 28% of black applicants being turned down for mortgages, in contrast to the white 10%, it’s easy to understand why the recession, specifically around the subject of foreclosures and housing costs, is more of a disadvantage to African Americans than Caucasians.

Part of the issue is around poverty stricken minority groups. More specifically African Americans. Poverty and crime have an “intimate” connection. Poverty arises out of the circumstances an individual is born into, lack of education and health care, or even being denied work opportunities after being released from prison. A good portion of this ties into the Omnibus bill, but it also is connected to the troubling financial situation that, not only are minorities born into but the vicious cycle that will then repeat unless opportunities for education and employment are afforded to minorities.

It didn’t help that, in 1996, Bill Clinton signed a bill into law that took away, or severely limited, welfare benefits to the poorest Americans. Hillary Clinton advocated for the bill as well. While her husband was criticized for it at the time, it would appear that her support makes her claim about providing assistance for children laughable as well.

All being said, the bigger issue of mass incarceration, specifically of African Americans and other minority groups, as well as the prejudice they currently face, is thanks largely in part to Hillary Clinton and her husband. Clinton is quick to pull out factors that are not controlled by Sanders directly as the Vermont state senator, but she ignores how she and her husband largely contributed to this problem. And not just in Vermont; we’re talking about the whole country over more than twenty years.



photo credit: Press Conference With Russian Foreign Minister via photopin (license)

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