Whether you like the former Vice President or not, his record includes aggressive support of the War on Drugs and the “tough on crime” movement in the United States, which led to more people being locked up for longer periods of time, hence the need for more jails and prisons, and thus the birth of the private prison industry.
During the CNN presidential debate last night, Cory Booker highlighted Biden’s role in the 1994 Crime Bill.
“You are trying to shift the view from what you created,” Booker said. “There are people right now in prison for life, for drug offenses because you stood up and used that tough-on-crime phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but destroyed communities like mine. This isn’t about the past. This is about the present right now.”
Indeed. It’s one thing to attack someone’s record over legislation that was passed 25 years ago. It’s another thing to point out how that legislation put more people behind bars and for longer periods of time than ever before and how we’re still trying to revise and reverse those very laws today.
Biden responded to Booker by stating that the 1994 Crime Bill was the measure taken to address the crack/cocaine epidemic in the United States.
While this is true, it doesn’t present the full picture. Since the crack/cocaine epidemic was linked to violent crime, three strikes and harsh mandatory minimum sentencing were established for drug related offenses (and many of these drug laws are still around today).
Joe Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the 1994 Crime Bill was passed. While the legislation wasn’t entirely responsible for mass incarceration because it was a federal law—and people did wind up incarcerated in state jails for drug crimes—local law enforcement also received additional money from the feds if states and counties adopted the federal policies under the 1994 Crime Bill. Plus, the promise to be “tough on crime” played a role in Bill Clinton’s election in the first place. So if this is a bit of which came first, the chicken or the egg, some might say that the 1994 Crime Bill was in response to what the people wanted — law and order, harsher penalties for crack/cocaine and drug offenses — but it didn’t stop drug use; it only put more people behind bars.
The 1994 Crime Bill wasn’t the only piece of Drug War legislation that Biden supported while in Congress:
Comprehensive Control Act (1984) A bi-partisan law sponsored by Senator Biden and introduced by Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) repealed the Bail Reform Act of 1966 and set forth new bail procedures. Prior to 1984, federal criminal defendants had a statutory right to be released pending trial (on their personal recognizance or on personal bond), but now a defendant was required to pay money for pretrial release. The Comprehensive Control Act also increased the fines associated with drug trafficking and expanded civil asset forfeiture, giving police even more authority to seize someone’s property (cash, car, house, etc) without proving the person is guilty of a crime. As long as the police officer suspects the person is guilty of a drug-related crime, the property can be seized, even auctioned off, and the proceeds return to the police department.
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986: Introduced by Senator Bob Dole, sponsored and written by Biden, this law increased the penalties for drug crimes. The law also created different sentencing for crack and powder cocaine — regardless that the drugs are essentially the same thing. The law established the 100:1 ratio. In other words, getting caught with 500 grams of powdered cocaine was the same sentence as getting caught with 5 grams of crack (five years in prison without parole). According to The Sentencing Project, this caused “low-level crack offenders to receive arbitrarily severe sentences compared to high level powder cocaine offenders…Defendants convicted of crack possession in 1994 were 84.5% black, 10.3% white, and 5.2% Hispanic.” Hence, this sentencing greatly contributed to racial disparities.
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988: Biden voted in favor of this legislation, designed to create a “drug-free America.” The law re-established the federal death penalty, increased prison sentences for drug possession (again), enhanced penalties for transporting drugs, and established the Office of National Drug Control Policy, more commonly known as the “Drug Czar,” which coordinates domestic and international anti-drug efforts.
As we point out in Jesse Ventura’s Marijuana Manifesto, Biden’s war on drugs didn’t end there. In 2003, he introduced the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, more commonly known as the RAVE Act, which was written to target businesses that provided venues for raves, where MDMA (Ecstasy) was commonly used. Since the fines started at $250,000 many business owners were scared of providing medical care for attendees who might be dehydrated, whether it was due to drug use or not. Authorities considered glow sticks, lollipops, even bottled water to be part of drug culture, so venues stopped selling them.
However, prior to this bill, during a 2002 Senate Federal Cocaine Sentencing Policy Hearing, Biden admitted that "we have learned that crack and powder cocaine are virtually the same drug" and "it is clear that the harsh crack penalties have had a disproportionate impact on African-American communities…I agree that the current disparity in sentencing cannot be justified, although I must take responsibility for this disparity existing…I'm the guy that wrote the law—literally. I'm the guy who drafted the legislation that resulted in this disparity.”
At this point, the disparity had existed for sixteen years.
Meanwhile, Senator Biden’s son Hunter was facing his own issues with alcohol and drug addiction. Hunter openly admitted to The New Yorker that during the early 90s, he used crack and cocaine at college, and his battle with sobriety has been constant throughout the majority of his adult life. Hunter was discharged from the Navy in 2014 after a drug test found cocaine in his system. No criminal charges were filed. And he had some other close calls, including a pipe and “white powder” being found in his rental car in 2016 (but no charges were filed).
Ashley Biden, daughter of Joe Biden, was charged with marijuana possession at 17 (prosecutors didn’t pursue the charges), and in 2009, a friend of Ashley’s attempted to sell a video to the New York Post, claiming it showed her snorting cocaine (but the video never surfaced, so who knows if this actually occurred).
The point being of course, that even Joe Biden’s family isn’t immune to drug use, but they were immune to the consequences.
On Tuesday night, Senator Bernie Sanders was front and center on the debate stage, standing where Joe Biden would stand on the following night. Bernie was explaining legislation that he wrote, most commonly known as Medicare-for-all.
“[Union members] will be better because Medicare-for-all is comprehensive — it covers all health care needs. For senior citizens, it will finally include dental care, hearing aids, and eyeglasses,” Sanders said.
“But you don’t know that, you don’t know that, Bernie,” Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio interrupted.
Sanders responded, “I do know it, I wrote the damn bill.”
While no one can fully realize the far reaching consequences of any piece legislation — positive or negative — Joe Biden is now publicly facing his political legacy of writing the damn bills that led to mass incarceration in the United States.
"…This is a crisis in our country because we have treated issues of race and poverty and addiction by locking people up and not lifting them up. Since the 1970s, every crime bill, major and minor, has had his name on it," Cory Booker said of Biden on Thursday night. "And those are your words, not mine."
Sanders was in Congress at the time the 1994 Crime Bill was passed; he made a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives to raise concerns about mass incarceration: "We are dooming today tens of millions of young people to a future of bitterness, misery, hopelessness, drugs, crime and violence."
Regardless, Sanders did wind up voting for the 1994 Crime Bill because it included the Violence Against Women Act—a law that cracked down on domestic violence and rape—but he recently said that he has regretted this, especially his concerns about the bill did in fact ring true. He has since led the way in criminal justice reform, including introducing the Justice Is Not for Sale Act back in 2015, but as the saying goes, we all live with the sins of our fathers.
We live and deal with the consequences of the choices of preceding generations.
And since Joe Biden had the final word on the debate state last night, we’re now discovering that Joe Biden can’t figure out how to plug his own campaign, so how on earth will he figure out how to reform the criminal justice system? Address climate change? You know, the biggest issues of our time.
In case you missed it, Biden was supposed to tell supporters to TEXT him at 30330 to get a message from “Team Joe”….instead, he directed everyone to a website called joe30330 that didn’t exist…
Of course, Twitter users who were following the debate in real time fired off their own theories about the 76-year-old former Vice President…was he just completely confused, does he not know what texting is or how the Internet works?
Regardless, it’s becoming more and more apparent that it’s up to us. We can’t rely on the Godfather of Mass Incarceration to solve the problems that he created through his horrendous judgement. Especially when we’re in the midst of a national opioid epidemic. Back in 2002, he admitted that he was wrong, yet he continued his crusade to punish drug users through the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, so what good is his judgement?
Who is Joe Biden? Drug abuse and drug addiction should be treated medically, not criminally. And Joe Biden is someone who never understood the basics.