Apologizing for the Clintons’ Crime Bill Isn’t Enough, We Must Now Rebuild Our Communities

clinton crime billIt is often said that if we do not learn from our history we are doomed to repeat it. I applaud Rep. Bobby Rush’s apology for supporting Clinton’s crime bill. He doesn’t apologize for the fact he desperately wanted to do something about crack addiction and crack-related violence, and of course he shouldn’t apologize for that. Instead he apologizes for supporting a bill that contributed to the destruction of our most vulnerable communities. He apologizes for voting for an approach that offered no compassion and few resources for investment, help and treatment—instead investing billions in prisons, jails, police, and punishment.

Of course “sorry” isn’t enough, given the magnitude of the harm that has been done. A brand new system of racial and social control has been born again in the United States, one that has functioned as a literal war on poor communities of color. Millions have been taken prisoner and then stripped of basic human and civil rights upon release.

While the political rhetoric of the 1990s invoked “super-predators”, the war that was actually waged in the streets was overwhelming focused on non-violent crime and drug offenders.

While the political rhetoric of the 1990s invoked “super-predators”, the war that was actually waged in the streets was overwhelming focused on non-violent crime and drug offenders. Billions were slashed from child welfare, housing, and education at all levels of government. State prison systems ballooned as federal funding was channeled to state and local law enforcement agencies that were willing to escalate the war.

White kids using and dealing pot and cocaine in the suburbs were still heading off to college and grad school. On the other side of town, black kids were shuttled from their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand, new high tech prisons. It is difficult to say how long it may take for our communities to recover from the damage done.

Now we must urgently focus our energies on rebuilding our communities and reimagining what justice actually means. A sincere apology is a place to start. So many of us have been asleep to varying degrees regarding what truly went down, and why so many millions have been locked up or permanently locked out.

michelle alexander ferguson reportI wrote my book when I finally woke up and faced my own complicity in a horrifying status quo. Facing our history honestly, and apologizing for whatever role we may have played in causing unnecessary suffering and harm, is a first step in the long journey toward healing our communities and making America what it must become.

Michelle Alexander

About Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander is a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar. In recent years, she has taught at a number of universities, including Stanford Law School, where she was an associate professor of law and directed the Civil Rights Clinics. In 2005, she won a Soros Justice Fellowship, which supported the writing of The New Jim Crow, and that same year she accepted a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. Since its first publication,The New Jim Crow has received rave reviews and has been featured in national radio and television media outlets, including MSNBC, NPR, Bill Moyers Journal, Tavis Smiley, C-SPAN, and Washington Journal, among others. In March, the book won the 2011 NAACP Image Award for best nonfiction.