Quantcast
Connect with us

‘I’m not sorry’: A quarter century later, Eddie Bernice Johnson stands by her crime bill vote

Published

on

Johnson is the only Texan remaining in Congress who voted for the bill, which has become deeply unpopular among Democrats and is a contentious issue in the 2020 presidential primary.

On the afternoon of August 18, 1994, Eddie Bernice Johnson, a barrier-breaking freshman congresswoman from Dallas, stood on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and stumped for the most infamous legislation of that decade.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Every day, most of the headlines have to do with crime,” she said, describing a desperate state of affairs in her home district. “School has been open less than two weeks now and already teachers have had guns in their faces. They found a gun arsenal underside of the building. It is overwhelming, but we must do something about it.”

Johnson was slated to speak that morning about health care, but she held off for 10minutes to weigh in on President Bill Clinton’s crime bill, which looked to be in jeopardy despite Democratic control of both chambers of Congress.

“I cannot understand why there is so much opposition and so much rhetoric and so much demagoguery surrounding the bill that will address these issues,” she said.

Three days after Johnson’s speech, the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act — better known today as the 1994 crime bill — passed the House. The next month, Clinton signed it into law.

ADVERTISEMENT

Two-and-a-half decades later, Clinton’s $30 billion tough-on-crime bill has become a flashpoint in heated debates about criminal and racial justice. A sweeping package, the bill included several measures that are still broadly supported by Democrats today: It included more than $1 billion to fight violence against women and remains the last time Congress passed significant gun control legislation. But the bill also expanded the death penalty, introduced controversial three-strikes and “truth-in-sentencing” laws, and poured billions in funding toward the construction of federal prisons.

And today the legacy of the bill haunts many of its original champions. For a new generation of liberal voters, complicity with the crime bill’s passage is a sort of political mortal sin. Many Democratic voters remember the bill as an engine of mass incarceration fueled by cruel and racist policing laws. Most notably, Joe Biden, one of the its lead authors, has faced a constant barrage of attacks on his racial justice record as he tries to maintain his lead in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

ADVERTISEMENT

Johnson, the first black representative elected from Dallas, is the only current Texas representative who was in office to vote on the crime bill back in 1994. She campaigned for it at the time, and voted for it when it finally passed the House that August.

But in an interview this month in her Washington office, Johnson was unbending in her defense of her record, waiving off the criticisms that have assailed Biden and other backers of the crime bill. A quarter century later, she expressed no regrets.

“I’m not sorry,” Johnson told the Tribune, recalling her feeling of urgency at the time to eradicate the violence and drug trafficking that plagued her district. “If the circumstances were the same today as they were back then, I would do the same thing.”

ADVERTISEMENT

More than 500 murders

In the decade leading up to Clinton’s inauguration, many American cities were reeling from crime. Year after year, cities across the country broke their own murder records. For black males between 14 and 18 years old in the 1980s, the leading cause of death was homicide. On TV, crime was inescapable. It even invaded children’s programing, where figures as unlikely as Pee Wee Herman fronted alarmist PSAsabout the lethal dangers of crack-cocaine.

Dallas was no exception. A 1989 PBS Frontline investigation into the city’s drug trade opened with a jarring declaration: “Behind the gleaming face of Dallas lies a war zone.” In 1991, local homicides surpassed 500, giving Dallas one of the highest murder rates of any city in the country.

“The thing that stood out nationally was the murder rate,” said former Dallas police Chief Ben Click, who took over the city’s police department not long after homicides peaked. “For a city that size to have 500 murders was amazing. … And those were just the murders. How many people were shot and all but didn’t die?”

ADVERTISEMENT

By the early 1990s there was general consensus that something needed to be done about crime, but chasmic disagreement over how to address it. Democrats — under the leadership of familiar names like Clinton and Biden — championed sprawling prison expansion, harsher sentencing, and reloaded police forces. Republicans pushed back, wary of the unbridled federal spending needed for crime-control.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and legal efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. And unlike other news outlets, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from billionaires and corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click to donate by check.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



Report typos and corrections to: [email protected]. Send news tips to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Commentary

Trump will turn to these secret weapons in desperation if the economy collapses before the 2020 election

Published

on

President Donald Trump, in recent weeks, has been stressing both economic themes and culture war themes. The economic themes were evident during a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire on August 15, when Trump tried to frighten 401(k) owners into reelecting him and insisted, “You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k), everything is going to be down the tubes (under a Democratic president). So whether you love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me.” But if the U.S. does go into a recession in the months ahead, Trump will have a harder time selling himself as the salvation of the American economy — in which case, he would likely become even more aggressive in pushing divisive culture war themes.

Continue Reading

Facebook

Pakistan PM Imran Khan calls on world to pay attention to India’s ‘fascist, racist Hindu supremacist ideology and leadership’

Published

on

Indian PM Narendra Modi reportedly rejected the comparison in a Monday phone conversation with US President Donald Trump

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday likened the Indian government to that of Nazi Germany in comments that represented the latest escalation in tensions between the two rivals that have been sent into overdrive over the disputed territory of Kashmir since India invaded the region in early August.

"India has been captured, as Germany had been captured by Nazis, by a fascist, racist Hindu Supremacist ideology and leadership," tweeted Khan. "This threatens 9 million Kashmiris under siege in [India-Occupied Kashmir] for over two weeks which should have sent alarm bells ringing across the world with U.N. Observers being sent there."

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

RNC’s Ronna McDaniels scorched for calling Elizabeth Warren a ‘liar’: ‘Every word Trump utters is a lie’

Published

on

The Republican National Committee chairwoman faced swift backlash for calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) a liar for claiming Native American ancestry.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly slurred Warren as "Pocahontas" to mock claims about her background, and the Democratic presidential candidate apologized Monday to Native American tribal leaders for any harm she had caused by promoting DNA test results to prove native ancestry generations ago.

RNC chair Ronna McDaniel gleefully mocked the Democratic presidential candidate.

Elizabeth Warren by the numbers:

Continue Reading
 
 

Thank you for whitelisting Raw Story!

As a special thank you, from now until August 31st, we're offering you a discounted rate of $5.99/month to subscribe and get ad-free access. We're honored to have you as a reader. Thank you. :) —Elias, Membership Coordinator
LEARN MORE
close-link
close-image