Bill Clinton’s missteps on encountering Black Lives Matter protestors

At a recent event in support of his wife’s campaign, Bill Clinton was confronted by Black Lives Matter protestors about how hard his 1994 crime bill affected the black community by putting so many in jail. Kevin Alexander Gray looks at how the myth arose that Clinton was a good friend to the black community and says that the reality is quite different.

So, the fact that Clinton left behind a larger — mostly black — prison population than when he took office should come as no surprise. Black incarceration rates during the Clinton years surpassed Ronald Reagan’s eight years. The incarceration rates for blacks increased from around 3,000 per 100,000 to 3,620 per 100,000 people during his administration. That he did nothing about mandatory minimum sentences ? no surprise. That he did nothing to change the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine that disproportionately affects African Americans ? no surprise. That he successfully stumped for “three strikes and you’re out in the crime bill, for restrictions on the right of habeas corpus and expansion of the federal death penalty ? no surprise. When he came into office one in four black men were involved in the criminal justice system in some way; when he left it was one in three. In many states ex-felons are denied the right to vote, a factor that had a direct impact on the 2000 presidential vote in Florida. Again, no surprise.

Larry Wilmore comments on the confrontation and the poor way that Clinton handled it then and the next day.

Mike Yard unloads a righteous rant on Bill Clinton’s disingenuous challenge to the Black Lives Matter protestors to tell the truth when it was he who was notorious for parsing language to avoid telling the truth.

(These clips aired on April 11, 2016. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    On the bright side: Clinton did actually attempt to address the protesters’ grievances rather than have them immediately expelled or ask the crowd to beat them up.

  2. lorn says

    The period between the late 70s and 90 was a different time, a time when many cities were war zones. Crack, and economic collapse of the cites didn’t help but there was also lead, which was not understood at the time to lower intelligence levels and predispose people to emotional upheaval:

    In the late 80s nobody seemed to know what the cause was. The crimes had crossed a threshold. They were more callous, bloody, pointless. It looked like we were dealing with a completely new type of crime. A pattern of behavior with no controls or limits, which quickly shifts to violence, often waves of violence, for little or no reason. Neighborhoods were terrorized with shootings almost every night. Break-ins and street violence were rampant. Thousands of people retreated to their homes at night and huddle together listening to the gunshots and sirens hoping that neither would get too close.

    There had long been crime. Gangs were nothing new. Fights over territory were old hat. But the violence was different. The super-predator theory floated as an label implying a ‘bad seed’ wasn’t very useful. Of course, as with so many things, there was a grain of truth. A whole lot of crime and violence was caused by a relatively few people. The truth was not that there were not a relatively narrow population committing crimes all out of proportion to their numbers, everyone knew that, the useful insight was how these young men came into being. The insight that they were created by the environment.

    Now we know that the combination of early exposure to lead, gang wars over crack dominating neighborhoods for years, chronic poverty, despair, a lack of policing and social services, and a broken dysfunctional society can combine to distort a normal psychology and thinking. Add poor nutrition, early exposure to violence, and sexual abuse and it is no longer a mystery why a small subset of children grow up to leave a trail of death and destruction in their wake.

    Of course most of this was before the youth of today were born. They have little or no memory of the bad old days. When firemen went to fires only after police secured the scene. Of inner city war zones where even the police wouldn’t go. Of waves of shootings and beatings and arson criss-crossing major cities. The upbeat of muggings, beatings, and murders every month when the old people got their Social Security checks. Of neighborhoods where a good night was one where only one or two were maimed or died. The steady drumbeat of children reported in the newspaper who were the unintended victims in a gang war where few could shoot straight. The once-a-week news story about young toughs forcing their way into an elderly persons apartment and beating them because there was a rumor on the street that they had cash or drugs.

    It was a different time and the super-predator theory seemed, for a time, to make sense. People were scared, and desperate for something to be done.

  3. doublereed says


    Please stop with the Clinton apologetics. The reality of overincarceration is a direct consequence of these policies. All you are essentially saying is that they were popular at the time, which is not new or interesting information.

  4. lorn says

    What you are obviously missing, given the odds you actually never saw the problem, is the simple fact that the Progressives of the time all agreed that super-predators were a problem and cheered mightily when the answers, not originating with the Clintons, were implemented. To this day many inner city residents, the majority brown or black, and poor, credit the policy for making their neighborhoods safe again. Many within the inner city minority community voted for Bill Clinton for his second run because of the early results of the crime program.

    The claims of over-incarceration were only heard well after the fact. And those complaints that were heard came largely by those who had no solutions to offer for the initial problem.

    This is typical. A major problem crops up, good intentioned people seek out the best information to try to solve it, the experts offer what sounds like a reasonable solution and it is implemented. But then, even as the plan actually works, there are going to be critics, and, inevitably, the initial experts who offered the initial solutions will have moved on to other options based on knowledge learned from the first attempt. The circle is completed when the new understanding is used to come up with a better solution and is retroactively offered up as a better option for the initial problem even though didn’t exist at the time.

    It is always the youths who are too young to have been there who have all the answers as to how thing should have been handled. Prognostication is always easier in hindsight. One wonders what happens when they get old enough to have the next generation tell them how all the answers are so very, very obvious.

  5. doublereed says

    How am I missing that? Yes, the policies were popular at the time. You’re just repeating that over and over again.

    You don’t see Clinton apologizing and saying that he’s regretful of the harm he’s done to communities and how hindsight is 20/20 and all. That’s not what his response was. He double-downed on his action. So apparently his hindsight is not 20/20, and he’s defending the terrible situation that he’s responsible for. Going forward, this should make you highly skeptical that the Clintons are going to actively reduce the prison population.

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