Former President Bill Clinton has come under intense attack for his full-throated defense of the crime bill of 1994 what is really called the violent crime control and law enforcement act of nineteen ninety four. It seems to me that the people who are talking (even the pundits on for example MSNBC Joy Reid, for example, and others) either weren’t really paying attention then, or and didn’t read the crime bill, or perhaps read the crime bill and forgot what it consisted of, and forgot the events that gave rise to its creation and passage.
Let me share with you but one of those events. July 1st 1993 was really a bright sunny day in San Francisco and afternoon about one o’clock and i went to the Royal Exchange to hang out early at the great Cal bar (for University of California at Berkeley students like myself, I got my master’s degree in city planning from Cal was on the Alumni Board from 98 2001 1998-2000 actually 2003 but I digress).
Bottom line is it was a great day but the television / switched to KTVU Channel 2 because just around oh three o’clock or so at that time there are reports of a shooting at 101 California Street.
Now to give you an idea where 101 California Street is with respect to wear Royal Exchange is. Royal Exchange is on Sacramento at Front Street here. If you go down Front Street, this is California. 101 California is right there, so basically just go down the block across California over here and the giant skyscraper that is 101 California is right there designed by Phillip Johnson – a steel and glass, iconic skyscraper that , when it was proposed, was unlike anything San Francisco had seen before. That’s another story.
A man by the name of Gian Luigi Ferri went up to the 34th floor to a law firm called Pettit and Martin. He got off the elevator and started to randomly shoot people using assault weapons.
There was a woman that I knew from Cal who worked at Pettit and Martin as associate. Just started, did Terry Presite, and I was worried for Terry. I was able to call her but couldn’t get a hold of her. Gian Luigi Ferri walked through her office and eventually killed nine people, injured seven others, ruining the lives of many, and impacted lives of countless people forever.
Pettit and Martin closed in 2001. That event, and others like it, gave rise to a call for a sweeping crime bill in 1994. A 363 page document that was sweeping far-reaching in scope – so for anyone to say that it negatively impacted the black community like the black folks all did did all this stuff really doesn’t know what they’re talking about to begin with.
For example, do you realize that the Violence Against Women Act started with a 1994 Crime Bill with a with the same bill that many are criticizing? Do you realize that the start of funding for halfway houses for escape places for victims of domestic violence started with the crime bill? Do you realize that the 1994 Crime Bill had an assault weapons ban that we have not had the collective will to establish today in an era of mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting?
Do you realize that? Do you realize that the that same bill that Bill Clinton is getting so much negative publicity for is the same bill that put 1,000 cops on the street? That funded and gave rise to community policing? They had a provision within it that said the US Justice Department was supposed to give an annual report on the use of excessive force by police programs around the United States – something that was never done.
So have you ever bothered to read the damn bill? No, you have not.
Do you realize what was going on at the time? No you don’t.
It made Oakland a safer community. It allowed us to hire more cops. It allowed us to get assault weapons off the street. We had gun buyback programs – including that, it was really effective.
The main overarching problem then in the 90s drugs were considered to be a problem of the black poor okay particularly heroin drugs weren’t thought of as being a white problem, even though all we knew we knew white folks did drugs and marijuana, but it was thought of as being a black problem.
Today, drugs are thought of, particularly heroin, as being not just a black problem but a white problem – which means it’s everybody’s problem. So now the 1994 crime bill that was so good then, because it only focused on drugs and you know black and the idea was that holy focus on black folks is now today thought out by some is being bad because hey white people new use drugs and right folks have a problem.
So now we’ve got to decriminalize everything.
You see what I’m getting at? It was okay to criminalize it when it was focused in the black community, but now that it’s a white problem oh we have to decriminalize it. Think about it. Think about what I’m saying to you. Think hard about what I’m saying to you, and at the same time we don’t have an assault weapons ban.
And you know something else that came out of the Violence Against Women Act which is still active: The Cyber Crimes Act, the act to prevent cyber bullying, which is installed in 2005 as a rider provision,
Do you know what you’re talking about when you criticize this bill? Yes there are parts of it that should not have been there, but given the climate of the times they were appropriate. Given what was happening in then they were appropriate. And again, it did sunset.
The real problem we have not solved since then is we still have an assault weapons problem. In fact, it’s enormous. We have open carry laws that people are openly defending in Georgia, walking around airports with their assault weapons saying oh this is okay at a time when terrorism is a concern, a big one, including domestic terrorism.
So in this context you’re going to tell me that the 1994 crime bill was this terrible thing? I think you need to reassess what you’re talking about, you really do.
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