As the US presidential election draws closer, Hillary Clinton bites her nails and Donald Trump tears away at his wig in anticipation, but for some, the election is nothing to get excited about. For some, both candidates are the lesser of two evils. For black people, either way, they inevitably lose.
Why? Because of racial issues, despite being ingrained into the American identity, is something that both candidates have brushed over time and time again, even if protestors are screaming the ‘R’ word from the other side of the room.
One doesn’t need to be reminded of Trump’s stance on racial issues, the point being, he doesn’t have one. Yes, race has been intertwined so negatively with the Republican candidate that ‘racist’ may as well be his honorary middle name. But, to say he is overly concerned with race, particularly the plight of black people in America would imply that he actually cares which he doesn’t, by the way.
In the first presidential debate, in which both candidates were quizzed about race relations and police involved shootings, Trump insisted that what America needed was more “law and order.” Now, anyone who knows their American history also knows that “law and order” are just code for militantly enforcing laws that discriminate against and target poor, black and Latino people. See Jim Crow, Stop and Frisk, and the 1994 Crime Bill if you’re confused about this.
Did someone say Bill? Great, because it’s time to have a rummage through that particularly fractured skeleton in his closet. In 1994, Bill Clinton signed the federal “three strikes and you’re out law,” in a bid to clamp down on America’s spiraling crime rates. The $30 million crime bill created dozens of new federal crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders and authorised more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces.
The result? The largest scale of mass incarceration the country had ever witnessed in its modern history, with over 600 state and federal prison inmates for every 10,000 US citizens between the years of 1993 and 2000.
The crime bill built partly upon Ronald Reagan’s ‘War on Drugs,’ which saw possession of crack cocaine (cheaper and thus more accessible in black communities) receive a greater penalty than powdered cocaine. After he left office in 2001, African Americans constituted to 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.
African American males make up 5% of the US population and 40.2% of the prison population. Does anyone see the disproportion yet? And that’s not forgetting that a convicted criminal is stripped of their right to vote.
Some may argue that Hillary should not be blamed for her husband’s mistakes, but it’s not as if she was sitting at home baking cookies whilst this all was going on. She was an avid supporter of a bill that was more concerned with the control of the dispossessed rather than the prevention and punishment of crime, a fact that has come back to haunt her on the campaign trail.
Look close enough at any Democratic rally and you may be able to spot signs with the word “superpredator” sprawled across them in dramatic black sharpie.
The phrase referred to a term Ms. Clinton used in 1996, referring to violent drug gangs on the streets, but is now widely depicted as a racial slur.
”In 1996, you used the term ‘superpredators’ to describe some young kids,” said debate moderator Don Lemon, referring the speech she gave as first lady. “Some feel like it was racial code. Was it? And were you wrong to use that term?”
Hillary, not flinching once, apologised for her choice of words before moving on, now back to what I was saying.
Her apology, although lacklustre, is one that does show signs of redemption. As part of her policy, she wants to cut mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses in half, explaining that the policy produces “excessive” sentences and promotes racial inequality, a complete 360 on her role in the 1994 crime bill, which she and her husband now admit was a “mistake.”
“African American males make up 5% of the US population and 40.2% of the prison population”
In addition, she wants to get rid of the “implicit bias” that exists within the police force and secure better record keeping of police-involved shootings and deaths in police custody. She also continues to support, or at the very least say the words “Black Lives Matter.”
Trump, on the other hand, has said that under his presidency, police will able to “do their jobs without repercussions,” and that protestors (like those led by BLM), would be treated “very, very rough” or even “carried out on a stretcher.” Although Hillary’s past is far from being without smudges when it comes to issues of race, a Trump win would mean more George Zimmermans walking free, more Trayvon Martins lying lifeless in the streets, more “I-can’t-breathes” and more African Americans being locked up in what is essentially a revised form of slavery.
Whilst Clinton may be able to slow the racial tsunami, she can’t stop the tide of history of race in America: “Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave) in America, and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen),” says Michelle Alexander, bestselling author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, “today, mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.” And Trump or Clinton, whether they want to or not, will have a hard time in changing that.