From the Left



Joe Biden should tout his role in the 1994 crime bill -- not hide from it

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

When you stand as tall in the early polling as Joe Biden does in the currently teeming multitude of Democratic presidential candidates, you become everybody else's target.

Biden knows this. As recent polls have continued to show the former vice president leading the pack, he has begun to take heat from his Democratic rivals Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City for his role as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in ushering the 1994 crime bill through Congress.

Each has criticized the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, for contributing to an explosion in the incarceration of African Americans, in particular.

Now President Donald Trump, who famously advised a gathering of police officers in 2017 not to be "too nice" when making arrests, has chimed in too. Apparently -- and not unwisely -- seeing Biden as his biggest re-election threat, Trump has joined Biden's critics in an apparent attempt to drive a wedge between Biden and African Americans, the Democratic Party's most loyal voting bloc.

"Super Predator was the term associated with the 1994 Crime Bill that Sleepy Joe Biden was so heavily involved in passing," Trump tweeted about Biden on Memorial Day while Trump was in Japan for a diplomatic visit. "That was a dark period in American History, but has Sleepy Joe apologized? No!"

Oh? Trump's remark presumes that Biden has something for which he should apologize. As one who followed and wrote about the crime bill debate, I see no reason for Biden to be defensive about it, flawed as it may appear to be now, some 25 years later.


First, it is important to remember the high level of public fear, rage and consternation that boiled through the electorate at the time. The constant drumbeat -- or gunshots -- of gang wars, crack cocaine overdoses and drive-by shootings dominated headlines.

In response, Clinton, Biden, Republican Rep. Jack Brooks of Texas and other lawmakers pulled together a bipartisan consensus to produce the largest anti-crime bill in American history -- a sprawling $30 billion package that included such wide-ranging remedies as tougher sentencing, more police on the streets, prison construction, drug treatment programs and community policing. The bill also included a 10-year ban on assault-style weapons that expired in 2004 after gun proponents strongly opposed its renewal.

And crime went down, right? Yes, crime rates went down, but a debate immediately rose up as to whether and how the crime bill had something to do with it. Was it the attack on root causes that liberals preferred or was it the tougher sentencing that conservatives wanted?

That debate goes on. As one source, PolitiFact, put it this past week, "Over the decades, no credible analyst has cast the 1994 crime bill as the trigger for mass incarceration."


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