Sister Souljah had a point.
Younger readers may have some trouble figuring out who Sister Souljah was, or what her point might have been. We’ll get to that. For now, let’s just say that if Donald Trump were to gather a group of black leaders around him and say, “Sister Souljah had a point,” heads would explode all over the place.
Our 45th president has shown a real talent for making heads do that. Usually the exploding heads are liberal, as when Trump called certain foreign nations “shithole countries” or called the migrant caravan approaching our southern border an “invasion.” But if he went, “Sister Souljah had a point,” cranial combustion would cover the spectrum. Mostly conservative heads would pop, but there would be lots of moderates and even a few liberals in the mix for good measure.
Right now, Trump has some conservatives simmering with his support for the First Step Act, a measure to soften some of the tough-on-crime policies that helped bring crime down from the heights of the early 1990s but also helped produce our sky-high incarceration rate, a rate that especially affects blacks. The simmering is by no means universal, with conservative stalwarts such as Mike Lee, Michelle Malkin and Ken Cuccinelli voicing approval of the FSA. But for many of us, anything “soft on crime” seems all wrong.
I myself take no position on the bill. I see some sense in the arguments on both sides, and I hope (more than trust) that the legislation ultimately worked out will gain the benefits desired with a minimum of harmful, unintended consequences.
What I object to is the implicit idea that being good to blacks means being soft on crime. And that is where Sister Souljah comes in.
If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You understand what I’m saying? In other words, white people, this government and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you’re a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person? Do you think . . . white people are better, or above dying?
I don’t minimize the malignancy of those remarks. As the rapper’s own words make clear, hate is the name of the game for her:
Souljah was not born to make white people feel comfortable. I am African first. I am black first. I want what’s good for me and my people first. And if my survival means your total destruction, then so be it. You built this wicked system. They say two wrongs don’t make it right, but it damn sure makes it even.
That rant is from a “music” video that comes complete with a preliminary skit showing greedy businessmen and Hasidic Jews berating a wimpy black mayor over crime in the streets. Plainly, the woman who chose to call herself “Sister Souljah” is a nasty piece of work. Maybe Williamson has changed over the years. I hope so. Age does bring wisdom, after all. But life is short, and I haven’t followed her career, so I wouldn’t know.
“The Hate that Hate Produced” reminded me of Nazi Germany, and not just because of the Jew hatred the video displayed. I found myself thinking of this statement from Sir Arthur Harris, commander of the British bombing campaign against the Third Reich:
The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everybody else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.
Hundreds of thousands of Germans would be consumed by that whirlwind. With that in mind, I would say to Sister Souljah and to all who think like her, “You don’t want white people to start thinking that way.” Thanks be to God that only a tiny fraction of us, whether black or white, suppose “my survival means your total destruction.” Were it otherwise, we Americans would quickly descend into something as horrible as Europe’s Holocaust. But the best way of keeping that tiny fraction tiny is to direct our anger where it truly belongs: not at each other, but at the criminals.
So let’s look at Sister Souljah’s point. Separate the message from the messenger. “White people . . . were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day . . . under gang violence.” If that’s the problem, then extending this daily mayhem to white people—to the powers that be—might indeed get everyone’s attention. Wouldn’t the whole society then act decisively, at long last, to put the mayhem to an end?
Later in 1992, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton quoted Souljah and exclaimed, “If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.” This came to be called Clinton’s “Sister Souljah moment,” in which he distanced himself from an extremism he knew many voters would detest. The phrase lives on in reference to any similar maneuver motivated by political calculation. As Clinton himself put it: “We can’t get anywhere in this country pointing the finger at one another across racial lines. If we do that, we are dead, and they will beat us.” (“We” being Democrats, and “they” being Republicans.)
The beating Clinton and his audience feared in 1992 is what had happened to Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis four years earlier. Dukakis was heavily favored to win the 1988 election, until it came out that he had shown a softness on crime which struck most Americans as truly insane: vetoing his state’s efforts to restore the death penalty, pocket-vetoing a bill that would have barred first-degree murderers from the state’s prison furlough program, opposing a new effort to enact that measure even after one such killer committed further brutal crimes while on furlough. Robert Bidinotto wrote all about it in Reader’s Digest, Republican operative Lee Atwater took the ball and ran with it, and the murderer, Willie Horton, became a household name.
Democrats rationalized their Dukakis-Horton debacle as having resulted, not from the lunacy of a legal system that coddles criminals, but from the wickedness of conservatives who exploit racial division. That’s how most people think of “Willie Horton” today. At the time, however, one black American was having none of it.
Alan Keyes would prove an awkward washout as a Republican politician and as a TV talk show host. But in 1988, he did his country a great service by challenging the “crime equals race” canard.
Keyes that year took part in a CNN panel discussion of Horton. When his liberal co-panelists said the GOP was playing on white fear of “black crime,” Keyes came uncorked:
That’s an absurd insult to all people in America who are concerned about crime. . . . Black folks have an equal reason to be afraid of crime, from blacks, from whites or whoever. I think we are Americans dealing with a scourge against Americans, and I think that decent people, hard-working people, people who raise their children to be decent, do not identify with a rapist and murderer just because they are black. And I think the suggestion that they do is itself a form of racism.
Keyes later remarked, “When I look at Willie Horton, I see a criminal. When the Democrats look at Willie Horton, they see a black.” The Democrats produced the slogan, “‘Law and order’ are code words for racism.” But both their slogan and their perception rest on a series of false (and indeed racially biased) premises.
Are most criminals black? No. Are most blacks criminal? No. Do most black people not want law and order? Wrong again. Would most white people not want law and order, if only all criminals were white? Not only wrong, but also stupid. Would robbery, rape and murder be any more tolerable if the answer to any or all of these questions were “yes”? Folks, what do you think?
Let’s get past the crime-race nexus to reach the point where all of us—black, white, or other—view crime as our common enemy, and we all join hands to take decisive action against it. Let us become in fact what Keyes called us: “Americans dealing with a scourge against Americans.”
How to do it? The First Step Act may indeed be a good first step, since it makes a sincere, bipartisan effort to unite Americans of all races against crime. But much more is needed.
For one thing, the FSA proposes reforms in federal incarceration policy that would affect only a small percentage of the thousands of crimes committed against Americans each year (most of which are state, not federal, offenses), and thus would not help most of the thousands of Americans who have been locked up as a result of those crimes.
For another, the FSA’s goal of helping ex-cons re-enter normal society, thereby reducing recidivism, depends not just on the measures the bill envisions, but also on a transformation of the prison environment, to where hardened criminals no longer rule the roost there. As I put it in discussing the likely longevity of the school shooter who killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida: “America’s prisons are notorious hellholes, and one reason that’s so is that they are chock-full of people who should have been hanged.”
That, more than anything, is what needs to change. Hang murderers, and we’ll be amazed at how quickly their lesser fellows sort themselves out.
So we arrive once more at my own version of Carthago delenda est. But what’s with this talk of hanging? Isn’t the idea to get blacks and whites on the same page when it comes to crime and punishment? How can you do that when so many people associate the hangman’s noose, not with lawful executions, but with lawless murders?
All over the world, for millennia, countless duly convicted criminals have been hanged, but in America during our century-long era of race-mob lynching, some 4,000 blacks fell victim to the hangman’s noose without benefit of law. It’s something that haunts us to this day.
Let executions be carried out by lethal injection, then, or by firing squad, or electrocution, or the gas chamber. But each of those methods has its own problems:
- Pharmaceutical companies don’t like to provide the drugs for lethal injection, and medical professionals don’t like to administer them. And no potion has yet been found that will satisfy the critics’ quest for a perfectly painless way to die.
- No one wants to shoot people for a living, either, despite all the Hollywood fantasies that picture “hit man” as an exciting, glamorous occupation. And the firing squad, while a better deterrent than being put gently to sleep, is a prospect not nearly as frightful as the gallows. Utah murderer Gary Gilmore, who had a choice whether to be shot or hanged, chose the former. Nazi war criminal Alfred Jodl, condemned at Nuremberg, likewise wanted to be shot, not hanged. Too bad about him. Today’s street gangsters, furthermore, have freely chosen a way of life that carries a high risk of being shot to death. They’re going to be scared of a firing squad? Yet the thought of being hanged gives them the willies, as it would any of us. (See above.)
- Electrocution really does run afoul of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.” It revolted the witnesses to an execution Thomas Edison helped arrange for the purpose of discrediting a rival’s technology. Some vomited; some fainted. “It has been a brutal affair,” one man said. “They could have done better with an ax.” A headline the next day read: “Far Worse Than Hanging.” The attending physician predicted: “There will never be another electrocution.” But in the craze for all things modern, “Old Sparky” went on to do its grim work for decades. “We live in a higher civilization today,” said the infernal machine’s inventor, who supposed he had made hanging obsolete. Yeah, right. I don’t think so.
- The gas chamber was long used in California and in several other states, and it presumably is less painful and gruesome than electrocution. But would it ever fly today? Two words: Zyklon B. Enough said.
Soft-on-crime demagogues are going to use the hangman’s noose against any proposal to bring back the death penalty, no matter what method is proposed. So I say, grab the bull by the horns, and go with the gallows.
Hanging is the fate suffered by the South Bronx couple driven to suicide by criminal tormentors in 1976. Does anyone think murderers are better, or above being hanged? If hanging was good enough for all the English rogues who swung from Tyburn Tree, if it seemed proper to Will Rogers, Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis—then it’s good enough for America’s murderers today.
In sum, Michelle Malkin got it wrong when she saw the First Step Act as an improvement over the “sweeping ‘hang ’em high’ mandates” that have fed what I’ve called “our bulging, hellish prisons.”
“Hang ’em high” is not the cause of those prisons’ hellish conditions. It’s the cure for them.
Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images