Thompson: Clinton must address mandatory sentencing, urban blight

Bankole Thompson
  • Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hasn’t given blacks reason to pay attention to her thus far.
  • President Bill Clinton ironically helped establish a system that put more blacks in prison than ever
  • Opinion: Hillary Clinton does not own the black vote.

The long anticipated Hillary Clinton song is playing across the country, but not many are dancing in black communities such as Detroit that traditionally vote Democratic. These voters aren’t dancing yet because the song is playing at a distance and the lyrics are not easy to decipher.

What’s in a Clinton presidency for our malnourished and poorly educated children, our unemployed and racially profiled men, our overburdened and underpaid women or our blight-stricken and depressed neighborhoods?

She hasn’t answered yet. When will she pick up Detroit’s 3 a.m. call?

Clinton made a brief stop Tuesday at the Sweet Potato Sensation bakery in northwest Detroit before heading to a fundraiser in Grosse Pointe. Detroiters need more than just a 40-minute stop.

Bankole Thompson

The Democratic presidential candidate needs to hold a major rally in Detroit and unveil a realistic urban policy. Jetting in and jetting out is not a meaningful way of addressing the deeply serious and structural issues facing urban America. If she wants the black vote she will need to spend some serious time here and experience the struggles of one of the most misunderstood and maligned American cities.

From a high unemployment rate to a dysfunctional public education system, Detroit, in the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., represents the “fierce urgency of now.”

Yes, some in the Republican Party continue to ignore the cultural and racial sensitivities of blacks and other people of color as exemplified in such candidates as Donald Trump, who believe that the more condescending they are toward minorities, the better their chances.

But Clinton, the presumptive Democratic flag bearer, hasn’t given blacks any reason to pay attention to her thus far.

There is growing concern among some Democrats that blacks will not turn out in droves in 2016 the same way they did for Barack Obama.

And why should they?

Hillary Clinton does not own the black vote.

Obama, by virtue of being the first black president, had an implicit influence on black voters. Candidate Clinton does not have the same standing.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, once described as the “first black president” by writer Toni Morrison, ironically helped establish a system that put more blacks in prison than at any other time in history.

With his omnibus bill in 1994 that cleared the way for the “three strikes provision,” Bill Clinton mandated life sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

“The problem is the way it was written and implemented is we cast too wide a net and we had too many people in prison. And we wound up ... putting so many people in prison that there wasn’t enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out so they could live productive lives,” Bill Clinton admitted in a CNN interview in May.

The law helped to disintegrate the black family. Urban centers saw a generation of black men carted away to prison to serve decades for crimes that do not match the time. Violent criminals deserve lengthy prison time, not non-violent drug offenders.

In a speech in April at Columbia University, Hillary Clinton said: “A third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.”

Nice speech. But where was she when her husband signed mass incarceration into law?

The year 1994 was also symbolic in another way. It marked five decades after the Holocaust when the world pledged to never allow such a scourge on human history again. It was the same year that then-President Bill Clinton dropped the ball when almost a million people were killed in genocidal attacks on the streets of the African nation of Rwanda as a result of the ethnic cleansing between the Hutus and the Tutsis.

In 1998, Bill Clinton went to Rwanda. “We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred.”

Hillary Clinton needs to state her position on the mandatory sentencing laws that stole the future of many black men. She also should address the Rwandan genocide under her husband’s watch.

We know political spouses do assert themselves and have great influence on their husbands. Was Hillary a bystander to the Rwandan genocide? Was she a silent spectator to the mandatory laws that decimated the lives of black men?

Last week Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison in his quest to reform the Bill Clinton mass incarceration laws. He also granted clemency to 46 non-violent drug offenders.

On the other side of the spectrum, Republican candidate Rand Paul, who was in Highland Park recently, has taken on criminal justice reform as a campaign issue.

“Rand Paul is speaking more to black issues than Hillary Clinton. In fact Hillary isn’t speaking to any issues important to Michigan voters right now,” said Wayne Bradley, the Michigan GOP African American outreach director. “Paul has a track record of speaking on issues challenging urban communities across America including prison reform.”

Blacks have long supported the Clintons. That is why it was all the more revealing when authors of the book “Game Change” explained why the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton. According to the book, Bill Clinton told Kennedy, “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.” Deeply offended by the comment, Kennedy would back Obama, giving him one of the most prized endorsements.

Hillary Clinton has some explaining to do when it comes to the black vote. She is a highly accomplished woman and brilliant politician who broke the proverbial glass ceiling with nearly 18 million votes in 2008. If she were to become president, she would be an inspiration to girls not only in America but around the world. But first, she must explain why black voters should support her. The black vote is no longer by default.


Bankole Thompson is host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.