In search of little else: Yesterday, we finally did it.
Using Nexis, we started to examine a tedious question—how common was the term "superpredator" in the 1990s?
First fruit of a cursory search:
According to Nexis, the term didn't appear in any American newspaper in 1994. Its use begins in 1995, with the first references to the invention of the term by "John J. DiIulio, Princeton University's resident crime expert and one of Washington's in-vogue thinkers."
That quote comes from a report by Nina Easton in the Los Angeles Times in May 1995. By 1996, the term was in much wider use. That's the year when first lady Hillary Clinton used the term, apparently on one occasion. (Count 'em, folks! One use, only one!)
Who was using the term in question? Why were they using the term? In April 1996, the Chicago Tribune's Bob Greene described the term as "a phrase that is on its way to common usage, a word designed to describe increasingly more violent young people who not only commit crimes and acts of violence in dismaying numbers, but who do it with no apparent sense of remorse."
Was there really any such increase in violent young people without remorse? We can't answer that question. Greene described several horrific recent examples which had received news coverage. But given the size of our very large nation, our journalists have long been skilled at discovering trends where no trend exists.
That said, the examples were awful. Early that year, Alex Kotlowitz cited one at the start of an opinion piece in the New York Times:
KOTLOWITZ (2/8/96): The crime is so heinous it makes me shake with anger. In the early evening hours of Oct. 13, 1994, two boys, 10 and 11 years old, dangled and then dropped 5-year-old Eric Morse from the 14th floor of a Chicago public housing complex, because Eric wouldn't steal candy for them.To read the whole column, click here.
His killers displayed no remorse. In court, the younger of the two, who could barely see the judge above the partition, mouthed obscenities at reporters covering the trial. Last week, they became the youngest offenders ever sent to prison in Illinois. And they have come to symbolize the so-called super-predators, children accused of maiming or killing without a second thought.
Unsurprisingly, both boys had fathers who were in prison. One had a mother who, according to school records, repeatedly missed counseling sessions. The other mother, according to court records, battled a drug addiction. I don't mention the parents of these children to excuse the crime. Nor do I mention this to state the obvious: In the absence of loving, nurturing, discipline-minded adults, children become lost.
Kotlowitz argued that we need to do more for children in disastrous neighborhoods whose parents have become lost. That said, the heinous examples were making the rounds, and crime rates had been very high for quite a few years at that point. And by the way:
Every one of the heinous examples came with innocent victims. In this case, the innocent victim was 5 years old. According to Kotlowitz, his older brother, who was 8, rushed down fourteen flights of stairs in hopes of saving his brother. He was a victim too.
How high had crime rates been at that time? On Tuesday night, Chris Hayes seems to have overstated, but only a tad, as he discussed the 1994 crime bill, with which we're now obsessed:
"The context there too is, you had a huge amount of crime. You know, I mean, really crazy, you know, set records. You know, you're looking at 2300, 2400 homicides in New York City, and the city the last year had around 300."
According to the leading authority, there were 2245 murders in New York City in 1990, the largest number ever. From there, the drop was remarkable:
Murders in New York City:Normally, a change in statistics like that should make you double-check your data. That said, the drop continued from there. Last year, there were 352 murders in New York City, the highest number in three years.
Crime rates were very high in the years when the term "super-predator" entered the lexicon. On Monday evening's Maddow Show, the silly people she hires to script her made Steve Kornacki, who was guest hosting, say, on two separate occasions, that the crime figures from that era had made people "nervous."
Nervous! We're going to guess that Eric Morse's family and loved ones were something other than "nervous." Incomparably, we wanted to take Maddow's ridiculous writers and amuse them with a snarky remark.
"We can think of 2145 people who weren't nervous," we'd snarkily tell the hothouse flowers who type the crap that Maddow performs. "We refer to the people who got killed in New York City in 1991."
We'd all enjoy a laugh.
(Nervous! Last night, Rachel was back, performing her program's fifth report about the D.C. Madam. Has "cable news" ever produced a bigger con artist than Maddow? The con goes on and on, and on and on and on.)
In the course of all that carnage, Hillary Clinton used that newly widespread term on one occasion, in 1996. Twenty years later, our unimpressive liberal world is in a tizzy about it.
(The tribal voices we hear in our heads say that our tribe can't be unimpressive. Every time we open our mouths, we prove those voices wrong.)
The foolishness of our current course reached a bit of a zenith in today's New York Times. In a very favorable news report about Candidate Clinton's tour with the mothers of the dead, Amy Chozick reported the highlighted statement:
CHOZICK (4/14/16): On Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton received the biggest applause of an otherwise lukewarm reception at Mr. Sharpton’s convention when she introduced Sybrina Fulton, the mother of [Trayvon] Martin, and Gwen Carr, the mother of [Eric] Garner.(Only Chozick would put it that way! Only Chozick would seem to criticize Bill Clinton for "drowning out the chants of Black Lives Matter protesters." Truly, we modern humans are basically out of our heads!)
Mr. Sanders has the support of Mr. Garner’s daughter, Erica; the director Spike Lee; Mr. West; and other prominent black figures, and he talks frequently about being arrested in the 1960s while marching for civil rights. But the mothers have allowed Mrs. Clinton to “really tap into the pulse of the black community,” said Representative Yvette D. Clarke, Democrat of New York, who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton.
Ms. Garner, who made an ad for Mr. Sanders, said Mrs. Clinton was “constantly throwing around my dad’s name” but had previously “called people like my dad ‘superpredators.’” Mrs. Clinton used the term in 1996 to describe urban gang members and has since said she regrets doing so. And last week, Mr. Clinton faced intense backlash after he drowned out the chants of Black Lives Matter protesters.
We don't offer this as a criticism of Erica Garner, who isn't a political analyst. But no. In all fairness, Hillary Clinton wasn't talking about her late father on the one occasion, twenty years ago, when she used that term.
This isn't the fault of Erica Garner. It's the fault of a pseudo-liberal world which has almost no serious adult leadership.
We operate by outrage and pointless anecdote only; basically, it's the only language we know. Twenty years ago, someone said a word we don't like, on one lone occasion. As a result, speeches are getting interrupted. Inevitably, the baboons who run our "cable news" channels select the fifteen seconds of anger and play it again and again.
Our own team is deeply unimpressive. For that reason, there's no real point in trying to convince our team that our current direction tends toward dumb. Still and all:
Yesterday at The National Memo, Gene Lyons posted a column about the debate surrounding the 1994 crime bill. Below, you see the way he began. We'll circle back to one point:
LYONS (4/13/16): Watching Bill Clinton bickering with Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia recently, I had several conflicting, and not entirely praiseworthy responses. One was that the longer an American political campaign continues, the dumber and uglier it gets.Hillary is a murderer? We're so old that we can remember when it was Those People, The Others, who went around saying that!
Another was, why bother? People holding up signs saying “Hillary is a Murderer” aren’t there for dialogue. The charge is so absurd it’s self-refuting. Certainly nobody in the audience was buying.
That woman who shouted that Bill Clinton should be charged with crimes against humanity? He probably should have let it go. Bickering over a 1994 crime bill has little political salience in 2016, particularly since Hillary’s opponent, the sainted Bernie Sanders, actually voted for the damn thing. She didn’t.
Instead, Clinton briefly lost his cool. The next day, he said he “almost” wanted to apologize, which strikes me as slicing the bologna awfully thin even for him.
Lyons goes on from there; his column is well worth reading. We'll pull one point for you to consider, and this isn't the fault of Erica Garner, who isn't a political leader or a political strategist:
"The longer an American political campaign continues, the dumber it gets."
We used to blame that on The Others. In our view, the monster dumbness has crept and spread from there.