Hillary on Super-Predators

New York Daily News columnist and Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King today posted footage of a Black Lives Matter activist interrupting Hillary Clinton wanting to know why "she called Black children 'super-predators'?"

The protestor held up a sign saying


which is indeed a direct quote from Hillary, on the election campaign in 1996.

The problem is that Hillary was referring to urban street gangs, not "black children". King and the BLM activist are making an equivalence that if reversed would provoke an outcry, and rightly so.

Now, this is not intended to downplay the enormous mistake that the 1994 crime bill was in creating the carceral state that has blighted so many lives, particularly those of people of color. Bill and Hillary have admitted it was a mistake.

Sean King is an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders who, somewhat ironically, is the only presidential candidate who had a vote on the 1994 bill. He voted for it.

The 1990s were a weird time, and a panic set in in the early 1990s about violent crime. This is somewhat understandable: there were 2,400 murders in New York City in 1994 alone. Many of these were gang-related. Of course, much of the perception of crime, and responses to it were racially-tinged, but to condemn the failure of the response (crime would have gone down anyway) is to play down the seriousness of the crime levels found in the early 1990s. And gangs were perceived as being a major contributory factor, even though that was probably overemphasized.

But these comments were in 1996. Bernie/BLM activists are engaged in the classic "whataboutery" that has become the stock response of RWNJs in recent years: it avoids having to look at the current situation, and policies, and focuses attention on what was said several decades ago.

And if we are going to do that, we need proper context, and accuracy. John J. Diulio of Brookings was largely responsible for introducing the concept of "predators" into discussions about violent crime. But even he recognized the difference between "black children" and violent gang members, even if his math on the cost effectiveness of prisons (let alone the social cost of the carceral state) were waaaaay off.

If incarceration is not the answer, what, precisely, is the question? If the question is how to prevent at-risk youths from becoming stone-cold predators in the first place, then, of course incarceration is no solution.

But if the question is how to restrain known convicted criminals from murdering, raping, robbing, assaulting and stealing, then incarceration is a solution, and a highly cost-effective one.

On average, it costs about $25,000 a year to keep a convicted criminal in prison.

Prisons are a Bargain, by Any Measure

Nevertheless, the link between urban gangs and crime was real. From a 1998 DOJ study:

The introduction to this Bulletin notes that youth gang members commit a disproportionate share of offenses, including nonviolent ones. In the Seattle study supported by OJJDP, gang members (15 percent of the sample) self-reported committing 58 percent of general delinquent acts in the entire sample, 51 percent of minor assaults, 54 percent of felony thefts, 53 percent of minor thefts, 62 percent of drug-trafficking offenses, and more than 59 percent of property offenses (Battin et al., 1998). In the OJJDP-funded Causes and Correlates study, Denver gang members (14 percent of the sample) self-reported committing 43 percent of drug sales and 55 percent of all street offenses (Esbensen and Huizinga, 1993). In the same study, Rochester gang members (30 percent of the sample) self-reported committing 70 percent of drug sales, 68 percent of all property offenses, and 86 percent of all serious delinquencies (Thornberry, 1998). Curry, Ball, and Decker (1996) estimated that gang members accounted for nearly 600,000 crimes in 1993.

Gang members also commit serious and violent offenses at a rate several times higher than nongang adolescents. In Denver, gang members committed approximately three times as many serious and violent offenses as nongang youth (Esbensen and Huizinga, 1993). Even greater differences were observed in Rochester (Bjerregaard and Smith, 1993), where gang members committed about seven times as many serious and violent delinquent acts as nongang adolescents. Seattle gang youth (ages 12-18) self-reported more than five times as many violent offenses (hitting someone, fighting, and robbery) as nongang youth (Hill et al., in press). In Rochester, two-thirds of chronic violent offenders were gang members for a time (Thornberry, Huizinga, and Loeber, 1995). As Moore (1991:132) has observed, "gangs are no longer just at the rowdy end of the continuum of local adolescent groups -- they are now really outside the continuum."

How strong are the effects of gang membership on the behavior of individual members? Studies in the three cities showed that the influence of the gang on levels of youth violence is greater than the influence of other highly delinquent peers (Battin et al., 1998; Huizinga, 1997; Thornberry, 1998). Youth commit many more serious and violent acts while they are gang members than they do after they leave the gang (Esbensen and Huizinga, 1993; Hill et al., 1996; Thornberry et al., 1993). However, the influence of a gang is long lasting. In all three sites, although gang members' offense rates dropped after they left the gang, they still remained fairly high (Esbensen and Huizinga, 1993; Hill et al., 1996; Thornberry et al., 1993). Drug use and trafficking rates, the most notable exceptions to offense rate drops, remained nearly as high after members left the gang as when they were active in it (Hill et al., 1996). This study also showed that in comparison with single-year gang members, multiple-year members had much higher robbery and drug-trafficking rates while in the gang.

Gangs are highly criminogenic in certain cities and communities. Studies have not yet determined what accounts for the high levels of individual serious and violent offense rates in gangs or the lasting effects of gang involvement. Are the individual characteristics of gang members a key factor? These characteristics could be important (Yablonsky, 1962), but Esbensen, Huizinga, and Weiher (1993) found no differences in the extent to which Denver gang members, nongang street offenders, and nonoffenders were involved in eight different conventional activities: holding schoolyear jobs, holding summer jobs, attending school, and participating in school athletics, other school activities, community athletics, community activities, and religious activities. Nor have long-term studies succeeded in identifying characteristics that distinguish gang members from other serious, violent, and chronic offenders. The main difference between the two groups is gang members' higher propensity for violence (Esbensen, Huizinga, and Weiher, 1993; Horowitz, 1983; Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991; Vigil, 1988); however, this could be because more violent adolescents may be recruited into gangs.

Youth Gangs and Violence

Let's be clear, the Crime Bill was a failure, and more politics than it was crime prevention. This was recognized at the time Here's The Washington Post, from September 1994:

THE CRIME bill whose enactment the administration celebrated with such effusive ceremony the other day was barely good enough to sign. The ceremony was like the bill itself, an effort to use a deadly issue as a political prop. The street crime that people rightly fear, which has made crime a major political issue, falls mainly within state and local jurisdiction. The federal government has only peripherally to do with fighting it.

But such were the times and the politics of the era that even Bernie Sanders voted for it. It passed the House on a voice vote. Its effects were much more malign than even skeptics such as the Post believed. It was, a terrible mistake. But few who were around at the time come to the topic with clean hands.