The Nation has published a piece by Michelle Alexander titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote,” in which the author of The New Jim Crow describes how the policies Hillary has supported in the past have destroyed black communities from Baltimore to Oakland. As Alexander explains in the article — and in her book — Hillary’s husband Bill oversaw an explosion of incarceration rates among blacks during his presidency. He denied Pell grants to inmates, backed the denial of federal student aid to drug offenders, and signed a bill placing a lifetime ban on welfare benefits for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense. He also supported sentencing that punished crack users much tougher than cocaine users, and was a fan of the “three strikes” rule that imposed life sentences on three-time offenders, further inflaming the racial disparity in incarceration rates. “When Clinton left office in 2001,” she writes:
the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 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. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, ‘President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.’
While President Clinton increased funding for corrections by $19 billion (or 171 percent), he was also cutting public housing by $17 billion (or 61 percent). He fulfilled a campaign promise to “end welfare as we know it” when he signed legislation placing a five-year limit on benefits, made receiving benefits predicate on having a job — which ballooned the number of workers earning “sub-subsistence wages” — and restricted undocumented immigrants from licensed work. Overall welfare spending was cut by $54 billion.
Perhaps most alarming, Clinton also made it easier for public-housing agencies to deny shelter to anyone with any sort of criminal history (even an arrest without conviction) and championed the ‘one strike and you’re out’ initiative, which meant that families could be evicted from public housing because one member (or a guest) had committed even a minor offense. People released from prison with no money, no job, and nowhere to go could no longer return home to their loved ones living in federally assisted housing without placing the entire family at risk of eviction. Purging ‘the criminal element’ from public housing played well on the evening news, but no provisions were made for people and families as they were forced out on the street. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, more than half of working-age African-American men in many large urban areas were saddled with criminal records and subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and basic public benefits—relegated to a permanent second-class status eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow.
"There is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it." https://t.co/sCRltnohiG
— The Nation (@thenation) February 11, 2016
With the safety net gone, a war on drug user still raging and the prison-industrial complex voracious as ever, an entire generation of black people was devoured by the system, with young black men behind bars and young black women left to raise children by themselves — with lesser and lesser assistance from the federal government. To refute the “oft-repeated myth” that the Clinton economy did good by black people, Alexander points out that official unemployment rates don’t include people in prison or people who have simply stopped looking for a job. “When Clinton left office in 2001, the true jobless rate for young, non-college-educated black men (including those behind bars) was 42 percent.”
If you think it unfair to blame Hillary for her husband’s policies, Alexander says think again. Not only was Hillary first lady, she was a very influential first lady who expanded the role by touring the country and stumping for her husband’s agenda. “She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures,” Alexander explains. “That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized.”
Alexander’s entire piece — and, indeed, my entire post thus far — lays out the reasons why a black person shouldn’t want to see Hillary Clinton nominated over Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. What, you may ask, does this have to do with Latinos?
First, because it must be said, especially during Black History Month, the terms black and Latino aren’t exclusive. Some blacks are Latinos, and vice versa. That means racist policies targeting black people will ultimately harm a sizable portion of the Latino population. Some of those young black men rotting away in prison have Spanish names.
Plus these polices have targeted not only black people, but Latinos as well. Latino men are incarcerated at a rate two and a half times higher than their non-Latino white counterparts, and Latino men are four times more likely to be imprisoned in their lifetimes than non-Latino white men. Close to a third of all inmates in federal prisons are Latino, and Latinos are the fastest growing group of inmates in both state and federal prisons. Hopefully I needn’t explain how cutting public welfare aid negatively affects Latino communities, which suffer wealth, income and educational disparities nearly comparable to blacks.
And if Hillary’s support for such policies — at least in the past — weren’t bad enough, her policies toward Latin America and immigration further underscore why she doesn’t deserve the Latino vote. As the son of a Honduran mother, but also as someone whose generally opposed to the overthrow of democratically elected governments, I’ve written about the former State secretary’s behind-the-scenes support for Honduras’s military coup in 2009. In the Latin America section of her 2014 memoir Hard Choices, Mrs. Clinton had the gall to admit working to restore order with the coup regime in power while trying to block the return of President Manuel Zelaya, a demand made by the rest of the hemisphere. When Clinton came out in favor of increasing security aid to Central America, an initiative dubbed “Plan Central America,” after the earlier Plan Colombia which pacified that country through the violation of human rights, I asked:
What can go wrong raising the already increased funding afforded Honduras’s security forces? It’s not like the current right-wing regime seized power through a military coup. This isn’t the same government that’s seemingly at war with every citizen who isn’t white, rich and male — even advocates of homeless children. President Juan Orlando Hernández isn’t the same man who in 2012, as president of the Honduran congress, replaced judges on the Supreme Court who had ruled a crime bill he favored unconstitutional. And that isn’t the same Supreme Court that earlier this year removed presidential term limits, allowing JOH to run for a second term. (By the way, that isn’t the exact same move former President Manuel Zelaya was accused of attempting when he was removed from office back in 2009.)
Then, as waves of refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras began fleeing the violence perpetrated by criminal gangs and criminal governments, Hillary told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that “we should do more to provide border security in southern Mexico” (making sure refugees never reach the United States’ doorstep) and “they should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who the responsible adults in their families are.”
Both of Clinton’s prescription have been carried out to cruel effects. At the behest of Washington, Mexico launched a crackdown on its southern border with Guatemala and began conducting raids on migrant safe houses, making the trek across Mexico even more perilous than it was before. Last month a Senate subcommittee published the findings of a six-month investigation into the placement of detained child refugees with relatives in the United States as they await a judge’s decision as to whether they can stay in the United States or not. The report found that at least a dozen child refugees placed by the Department of Health and Human Services were the victims of human traffickers and at least another dozen suffered various forms of abuse at the hands of the very people charged with their care. One 16-year-old girl was released into the care of a person claiming to be her cousin but who was actually a sex trafficker, with whom the girl was forced to have sex.
The blood of these crimes — from her socioeconomic attacks on the black and Latino communities, to her attacks on Latin American democracy and her derogation of the rights of refugees — is on Hillary Clinton’s hands. These are but a few examples of how Clinton isn’t what most Latinos believe her to be. I didn’t get into the pivotal role the Clinton administration played in hobbling the Mexican economy through NAFTA, and I’m aware of other policies she implemented in Africa and Asia as secretary of State similar to the one she championed in Latin America. Any Latino planning to vote for Hillary based primarily on name recognition must first understand what the name Clinton really means to Latinos at home and Latin Americans abroad.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.