Episode 33 - Joe Biden is the Father of Modern Mass Incarceration

Transcript, Web links and Credits below.


Hey Everybody!

Today is a special episode. One that I hope you can refer back to for years to come. Before we begin, I need to properly introduce myself.

I’m Shaun King. I’m a journalist. I’m a CEO of a media company. I’m a historian. But first and foremost, I’m a lifelong advocate for justice reform in this country. I’m 39 years old and I’ve been fighting for justice reform for 22 straight years. It’s the work of my life. For years I worked in jails and prisons and youth detention centers as a full time teacher. I’ve fought to free people from death row. I’ve fought to change laws and have seen them implemented. I help run a PAC to elect new district attorneys across the country and have seen whole systems start to change as a result. If you’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory — that it takes 10,000 hours of work on a thing for you to become an expert in it — I’ve put in 10,000 hours on justice reform. I’ve done the math. I’ve written over 1,000 published articles on injustice in America — more than almost any writer in the nation.

And I said all of that to say that this week I’ve heard a very dangerous lie being told about how the systems of mass incarceration were built in this nation. I didn’t expect to have to respond this way because I didn’t expect Joe Biden to lie about the 1994 Crime Bill. He wrote it. He fought for it. And the results were devastating. Every single expert on this topic agrees.

This week Joe Biden took the stance that not only is he not sorry for the Crime Bill, but that it didn’t even increase mass incarceration. And it’s shameful because either he’s willfully lying, which is horrible, or he’s just plain ignorant about the true impact of the bill, which is also horrible. Either way, I have a major problem with it because these laws are still in effect and they are doing damage in our communities every single day, 24 hours a day.

And today I am going to do two things. I’m simply going to let Joe Biden speak for himself on this issue — and show you what he said about the bill before he was running for President. And I’m going to introduce you to a man who voted for the bill and said it was the single biggest mistake of his life. One that he said he had to repent to God for.

Let’s dig in.

This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!


When you get a chance, I’d like for you to read the book Locking Up Our Own by my friend James Forman, Jr. It won the Pulitzer Prize last year and it tells the hard, painful truths of who and what caused the crisis of mass incarceration in this nation. James is a brilliant and kind soul, a professor at Yale Law School, and he goes where most previous authors were afraid to go. And if you haven’t read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander — read that too. I never want you to just take my word for it on these issues. Do your own research.

But when you do, let me tell you what you’re going to find. You are going to find that the United States not only has more people in prison than any country in the world, but it has more people in prison that any country in the history of the world — on purpose. You’ll hear me say this many times — the systems of mass incarceration in the United States aren’t broken. It’s quite the opposite. That suggests that they were well intentioned and well built — and simply deviated a little to the left or the right. That’s not what happened. The systems and structures and polices of mass incarceration were built on purpose. They have deep roots in slavery.

But from the day white men landed on this land all the way until the 1970s, I mean for 481 years — from 1492 all the way until 1973, the United States never had more than 300,000 people in prison. Ever. And that number exploded in the 1970s, not because of an explosion in crime, but because the Nixon administration and several subsequent administrations decided to create something they called the War on Drugs, but it was never really a war on drugs, it was a war on people. If you watch Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th, she explains this well.

After the Civil Rights Act & Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s, the Nixon administration wanted to figure out how to suppress the Black vote. And his Director of Policy, John Ehrlichman, openly admitted on the record in an interview that they wanted to figure out a way to criminalize Blackness itself. Let me read you a quote from Ehrlichman that he made in a 1994 interview to Harper’s Magazine.

"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. Raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

Those were the words of Richard Nixon’s Policy Director admitting that they fabricated the War on Drugs because they knew they couldn’t criminalize Blackness itself.

And through the 1980s and early 1990s, as that war continued with the Reagan and Bush administrations, mass incarceration continued to grow. But in 1992, with Bill Clinton becoming the first Democrat elected President since 1976, Democrats decided they would own this issue for themselves.

And in the name of making Black communities safer, President Bill Clinton worked directly with one man to not only write the most expensive, most extensive crime bill ever authored, but he worked directly with this man to get it passed in Congress. And that was Joe Biden.

And I need to play you a clip of Joe Biden giving a speech on the Senate floor fighting for his crime bill. This is in 1993. No single person fought harder, and gave more racial tropes — about predators injuring your wife and mother — than Joe Biden. Here he openly says he doesn’t care what the root causes of crime are. Let me play it for you.

(Insert clip)

As you may know, Joe Biden is on the presidential campaign trail right now, and reporters and others are starting to ask him about his role in building mass incarceration. On this past Tuesday he took a question from the crowd, and I am embarrassed to say that he lied in his response to this young woman. Kathryn, the young woman in the crowd, asked Biden what specific policies he would introduce to fix the damages in Black and Brown communities caused by mass incarceration, and in his response, Joe Biden told two lies.

The first lie was that his crime bill only impacted people in federal prison. You’ll hear Joe say, hey, let’s set the record straight, 92 out of 100 people are in state prison, not federal prison – and his inference there is that his bill had nothing to do with people in state prisons. I’ll address that shortly. But then, Joe Biden said something I couldn’t believe. He just openly lies and says that the crime bill didn’t create mass incarceration.

Let me play the clip for you.

(Clip plays)

So that was Joe Biden on Tuesday, flat out defending the crime bill for the 2nd day in a row.

In response to 2019 Joe Biden, I need to play for you 1995 Joe Biden. At this point, his crime bill had already passed. And you’ll hear Joe, in this press conference brag not only about how he wrote the bill forcing federal judges to give people harsh mandatory minimums when they’re convicted on the federal level — and how much he wants that and likes that — but here you will hear Joe Biden say something very disturbing.

Here, Biden makes clear that in order for states to get any federal money for jails, prisons, or police departments, they must agree to copy the mandatory minimum prison sentences that he created on the federal level.

Let me play you the clip.

(Clip plays)

Did you notice that Biden said before him, states were only having men and women, serve, on average, about 40% of their prison sentences, but that he fought to make sure if they got any money from the federal government on law enforcement, which all 50 states did, that they’d have to match his mandatory minimums of 85%.

So for Biden to now come out this week and act like his 1994 crime bill had nothing to do with state prisoners or mass incarceration on the local level is just a lie.

But it’s bigger than that. The single biggest feature of the crime bill was the federal hiring of 100,000 new police officers. Cities and states were given tens of billions of dollars to fund this. And guess what they did?

Guess which communities were flooded with police? Guess which neighborhoods were flooded with police? Guess who was arrested and prosecuted at record levels? Black and brown people. And after Joe Biden’s 1994 crime bill, from 1994 until 2004, in just 10 years, the number of people in jails and prisons nearly tripled in this country. Those 10 years were the single largest years of growth in mass incarceration in American history.

Those 10 years ravaged Black communities from coast to coast. In a recent interview, Congressman Bobby Rush, one of the most respected members of the entire Congress. Congressman Rush, who was a former Black Panther from the South Side of Chicago, who actually defeated a young man named Barack Obama when he first ran for Congress, Congressman Bobby Rush did an interview where he not only addressed the fact that he voted for the Crime Bill in 1994, he starts the interview off with Tamron Hall by saying, “I am ashamed of my vote. I sincerely apologize to my God. I apologize to my community. To my family. That was the worst vote, as I look back over the years, that I have taken since I’ve been in the Congress.”

I want you to hear this clip for yourself, because it’s the most honest, transparent moment you’ll ever hear from someone about the crime bill. And Congressman Rush concludes by saying he thought the bill might be the most destructive thing for Black people in the past 50 years.

Listen now. It’s a painful, powerful moment.

(Bobby Rush Clip)

I don’t think you’ll ever hear a more honest, transparent moment from any member of Congress on the true impact of the crime bill. He repudiated the bill. He repeatedly apologized for the bill. He said he apologized to God for the bill. And that’s because he lives and works and represents the South Side of Chicago — which was absolutely ravaged by this crime bill. He said that right next to crack cocaine, it was the single most catastrophic force in the Black community of the past 50 years.

And after Bobby Rush said this — and put himself out there — I want you to hear what Joe Biden said, in an NBC interview, when he was told about what Bobby Rush said. Biden was then asked if he regretted it — and without even a hint of remorse or pause, he smiles, and says, “Not at all. In fact, I drafted the bill if you remember.”

Let me play that clip for you.

(Joe Biden clip)

That wasn’t an interview from 1994, or 2004, or 2014. That was a clip from 2016. By that time, just as Congressman Bobby Rush said, the bill had completely ravaged our communities, flooding them with police, almost completely skipping over the root causes of crime and despair, offering no real solutions, and carting millions and millions of black and Latino folk to jail and prison. And Joe Biden’s response when asked if he had any regrets, was a calm no.

Well let me be the first to say to Joe Biden — f— you for your calm no. F— you for flippantly saying this week that your crime bill didn’t even impact mass incarceration, and f— you for thinking you can look anybody in the face and say this bulls—. It’s abusive. It’s dishonest. And it’s disgusting. Because our communities, to this very day, are still being ravaged by these laws that you created. And for you to look right into the camera and say you don’t have a single regret, infuriates me.

It’s wrong. It’s arrogant. And I won’t simply let him say these things without a retort.

Just as he has been flippant about his role with Anita Hill and flippant about the Me Too Movement, he has been doubly flippant about his record on building the systems and policies of mass incarceration. And don’t tell me that was way back in 1994. He’s defending it this week. He defended it in 2016. And he fought like hell to get it passed and then fought like hell to get the credit for it. He owns this. And this week, he made it clear that he wants to own it.


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Produced by Willis Polk II

Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon, Lance "Lance Fury" Powlis, Markeith Black & Smok Tagous

Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library

Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush, Jason Coffey & Courtney Campbell

Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg

Contains samples from:

“Ascension II” by The Off Daze