Will Trump ad fool black voters?


— Jamiel Shaw, Sr. is supporting Donald Trump for president.

He isn’t among the legions of white supremacists and white nationalists frantically praying for a Trump presidency, though. Shaw is a black man from Los Angeles grieving over the 2008 murder of his son, 17-year-old Jamiel “Jas” Shaw, Jr. An undocumented immigrant gang member, Pedro Espinoza, killed him after mistakenly believing he was in a rival gang because of the color of his backpack. Espinoza was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012.

“Trump is the only one saying, ‘You gonna be dealt with; we gonna enforce that.’ … That’s a beautiful thing,” Shaw says in a 30-second political ad in which he is seen standing next to Trump during a large rally. “I believe Donald Trump wants to make us great again. And he loves America.”

Political analysts are comparing it to the now-infamous Willie Horton ad, which strongly tied race and crime together without explicitly saying so. I say it is the perfect illustration of why bad policy that ends up ruining the lives of countless vulnerable Americans garners widespread support.

Fear, anger and grief often blind good people to the potential for unintended consequences of harmful laws. These may not show up for years, or even decades. It happened for mass incarceration. Trump is hoping it will happen again with illegal immigration.

Contrary to the claims made by supporters of Bernie Sanders and opponents of Hillary Clinton, the tough-on-crime laws of the Clinton era were neither unique nor the primary domain of the Clintons or white, racist legislators simply finding a new way to re-enslave black men — even though race has played a significant role in the transformation of the criminal justice system throughout our history, with black people coming out on the wrong end of decades-deep disparities every time.

But those laws were generations in the making — and had support then from prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, black journalists and poets, as well as activists and everyday black residents in black neighborhoods.

While they were primarily concerned with rising crime rates and finding ways to tamp down violence in their communities, they joined with others who seemingly harbored more nefarious goals — to push tough-on-crime laws that led to harsher penalties for crack cocaine than the powdered version.

They supported the “three strikes and you’re out” philosophy. They may have wanted more mental health access and other options, but they were also in favor of longer prison sentences for violent crime — which is a bigger driver of mass incarceration than just about anything else.

A lot of people like to pretend that the new focus on a more humane treatment of drug addicts is solely because the heroin crisis of today affects mostly white families. The truth is that when black people went through a similar crisis in the 1980s and ’90s with crack cocaine, we listened to those, like a Princeton researcher, who told us that there would be a rapid rise of supposed “super predators,” juveniles (read black) essentially void of souls who would become a menace to society in ways we had never seen before. In fact, we flocked to see young black men depicted in just those ways in movies like “Menace to Society” and “Boys ‘N The Hood.”

The truth is, we played a significant role in mass incarceration because we were scared, we were angry, we were grieving the loss of young men and women taken during drug related incidents — drivebys, shootings, and gang wars — that frightened us just as much as it did white people. It does us no good to lay all or most of the blame at the feet of the Clintons or white conservatives and politicians who apparently found it easy to drum up votes by vowing to lock up mostly black and brown young men and throw away the key.

Maybe others played on our fears — but we helped. We must admit that “The New Jim Crow” was a result of a bipartisan, biracial collaboration.

Maybe the majority of white people have been shown in tests by researchers to harbor ill, if subconscious, feelings about black people — but those same tests show that at least half of black people harbor those same, ugly stereotypes of black people, and probably of “illegal” immigrants as well.

Heck, even today you can walk into various black churches and neighborhoods and hear people wanting more young black males, and increasingly black females, jailed or imprisoned for committing acts that might be wrong, annoying or even dangerous, but shouldn’t be criminal.

When a young black girl was thrown across a classroom by a muscle-bound resource officer in an incident at a South Carolina high school last year, there was outrage at the officer’s actions — but there was also an undercurrent of opinion that the young girl had brought it upon herself because she dared not comply with every demand of her teacher, as though she’s the first teenager in history to have made that kind of decision.

Remember, it is black people who’ve pushed the notion that if we are just a little more perfect during traffic stops that will lessen the chances that we’d become victims to police brutality — even though it is the cop, not the motorist, who determines such things.

Fortunately, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is trying to correct for those past mistakes and is demanding that a person’s full humanity be taken into account in every situation, no matter how imperfect they might be.

It’s important to acknowledge the role minorities played in the out-of-control prison industrial complex if we are to avoid a repeat of those mistakes. While it has become fashionable for politicians on both sides of the aisle to talk up criminal justice reform, the phony “war on cops,” the suspect “Ferguson effect” and the rise of Trump shows just how fragile that movement is.

Trump is playing to those same fears; only this time, he’s using the heartbreaking story of black voters like Shaw to do to others what was done to black people.

I suspect he’s counting on us not recognizing the parallels, making it easier for him to claim that he’s talking about Mexican rapists and murderers only with the aim of making “this country great again,” not to target yet another vulnerable group, turn them into America’s latest scapegoats and ride their backs all the way to the White House.

Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Twitter: @ijbailey The views expressed are his own.