Civil Liberties

Friday A/V Club: Hillary vs. Superpredator

The 1990s saw a wave of weird warnings about a coming crime surge to be led by inhuman "superpredators." Guess who joined in?


"It's gonna be a great movie. We had Trump design the alien and we had Clinton design the predator."
20th Century Fox

It has been 20 years this month since the neoconservative academic John J. DiIulio Jr. warned Weekly Standard readers that "the demographic bulge of the next 10 years will unleash an army of young male predatory street criminals who will make even the leaders of the Bloods and Crips…look tame by comparison." These "superpredators," as DiIulio called them, included more than teenagers. "We're talking about boys whose voices have yet to change," he wrote. "We're talking about elementary school youngsters who pack guns instead of lunches. We're talking about kids who have absolutely no respect for human life and no sense of the future. In short, we're talking big trouble that hasn't yet begun to crest."

These monsters weren't entirely inhuman. "Under some conditions," DiIulio allowed, "they are affectionate and loyal to fellow gang members or relatives." Though "not even moms or grandmoms are sacred to them."

All this fear-mongering would eventually be debunked. Over the next two decades juvenile crime, like crime in general, would sharply fall instead of surging. DiIulio himself eventually recanted the superpredator theory. But not before it was adopted by a number of prominent and powerful Americans, such as this woman:

Yep: That's possible-future-president Hillary Clinton, speaking in New Hampshire in 1996. The then–first lady was campaigning for her husband's reelection, touting the alleged benefits of the crime bill he had signed two years earlier and calling for further action against the gang menace. If you weren't able to watch the clip above, here's what she said in it:

They are 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.

She might as well have been promising to shoot zombies. But this is the sort of rhetoric that was deployed to build up the carceral state in the 1990s.

These days Clinton is more likely to endorse criminal justice reform, though not of a particularly far-reaching sort. (She's more likely to call for a kinder, gentler drug war than to question the drug war itself.) But whatever policies she might enact as president, it'll be a long time before she's done as much to roll back mass incarceration as she did to install it.

Bonus links: To see the rest of Clinton's 1996 speech, go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.

(Clinton clip via Adam Johnson.)