House and Senate conferees warred, and the White House sweated, over the costliest and craziest crime bill ever proposed in this country.
I hope this bill goes down in defeat, because it is a $30.2 billion monstrosity that is little more than a monument to the stupidity of those who think we can incarcerate and execute our way out of a dreadful crime situation.
The politicians who helped create a national firestorm over crime are now trying to prove, in phony unproductive ways, that they are doing something about it.
Look at the record number of homicides in dozens of cities, the deadly carjackings and drive-by shootings, the murders by disgruntled ex-employees, the killings in marital conflicts, and even assaults in our schools. They involve guns, guns, guns.
But does this crime bill deal realistically with the curse of 200 million guns that flood our streets? No. The House and Senate voted to ban 19 "assault" weapons while exempting 650 specifically-named firearms. But even that feeble lurch toward gun control is too much for Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who tried (but failed) to rip this item from the bill.
This legislation would authorize $8.3 billion for new prisons -- on top of $3 billion worth of prisons and jails now under construction. Will this huge investment in prisons really curb the crime problem? We have quadrupled the U.S. prison population over the last 20 years (and doubled it in the last decade), but that has been no panacea for crime. More and longer incarcerations will make a lot of people feel good, but they will not produce the tranquility most of us want.
Much publicity is given to the fact that the measure adds 60 or so crimes to the list for which the death penalty may be imposed. Blacks -- and a lot of white people, including retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun -- argue that blatant racism is involved in imposition of the death penalty.
The Congressional Black Caucus wanted the law to include a vTC right of a person on death row to cite evidence that racism was a factor in the decision to order execution.
The so-called "Racial Justice Act" was dropped from the crime bill after some lawmakers, mostly Republicans, hauled out the old buzzword "quotas." President Clinton tried to pacify black Americans with meaningless talk of a "commission" to study what all but the racists already know -- that the criminal-justice system reeks of racism, especially regarding capital punishment.
This is all eerily amusing at a time when a clamor rises over O.J. Simpson's ability to hire the best lawyers and investigators to defend him against double-murder charges. It is as if some Americans just discovered class bias and that the death penalty is almost never imposed upon rich people but is used mostly against minorities, especially poor ones.
This crime bill will only spread and deepen racial hostility in this country, and thus create more crime.
Almost all of us have supported the provision to pay to put 100,000 more policemen on the nation's streets. Most of us ought to know that those policemen will be infinitely more effective if they have broad support of the communities they will patrol.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, fought for $1.7 billion for programs to build ties between the police and citizens, but had to beat off Republican attempts to take that money for still more prisons.
Some $7.6 billion is allocated for crime prevention, but is assailed by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, as "pork barrel, unnecessary social spending." There is plenty of "pork" in this measure, as in any outlay of $30 billion. But that is not the major wrong in this bill.
This proposed law is the grotesque product of politicians who wish to prove that they are tougher on crime than their opponents. So it is a grab bag of legislation, some Draconian and much of it worthless, that is supposed to make the people feel safe from criminals, at least until after election day.
But the notion is abroad that the public wants this bill so badly that no one in the White House or on Capitol Hill would dare move to pull the plug on it.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist