Do you know what a superpredator is? Hillary Clinton is coming under fire for using the term in 1996. She has explained why she used it, but her explanation doesn’t hold up.
This is a Reality Check you won’t see anywhere else.
At a fundraiser just days ago, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was confronted by an activist. Take a look:
“…criminal justice reform and all the like. So I think that we have got a very long way to go…”
The young woman you heard there — her name is Ashley Williams. She told Clinton, “I am not a superpredator.”
So what was she talking about? Well, she was referencing this excerpt from a speech from 1996:
“They’re not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators. No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
In an interview late last week, Clinton explained to the Washington Post what she was talking about.
“In that speech, I was talking about the impact violent crime and vicious drug cartels were having on communities across the country and the particular danger they posed to children and families,” Clinton said. “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”
And that sounds fine; the only problem is that if you go back to what Clinton was actually talking about in 1996, she wasn’t talking about crimes committed against children. She was talking about crimes committed by children — children who were called superpredators.
It’s a 20-year-old myth that has been disproven over and over, but a myth that led to some very serious consequences.
In the mid-1990s, criminologists issued predictions of a coming wave of “superpredators.” These were “radically impulsive, brutally remorseless” “elementary school youngsters who pack guns instead of lunches” and “have absolutely no respect for human life.” That was how superpredators were defined.
In 1995, John DiIulio, a professor at Princeton who coined the term “superpredator,” predicted that the number of juveniles in custody would increase three-fold in the coming years and that, by 2010, there would be “an estimated 270,000 more young predators on the streets than in 1990.”
But those predictions would turn out to be untrue. Even so, something incredible came from all of it. That myth 20 years ago led nearly every state in the country between 1992 and 1999 to expand laws that removed children from juvenile courts and exposed them to adult sentences, including life without parole.
But the idea that children, especially young minority children, were becoming super-predators was not only untrue but statistically fell apart.
Violent juvenile crime rates had already started to fall in the mid-1990s when this prediction was made. And By 2000, the juvenile homicide rate stabilized below the 1985 level.
Former President Bill Clinton has already been heavily criticized for policies that led to mass incarceration. But the superpredator theories, they had an incredible toll that we still feel today.
That’s because right now children as young as 10 years old continue to be exposed to adult prosecution in the United States. Today, in America, 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons and nearly 3,000 American children have been sentenced to die in prison.
Policies cannot be laid only on the feet of the Clintons, but every politician and state leader who voted for draconian laws based on a scary name.
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