The 1994 Crime Bill, which was concocted by then-President Bill Clinton and then-Sen. Joe Biden, is still a hot topic 26 years after its passage. It has been blamed for leading to the mass incarceration of Black men and its ramifications are still being felt today.
People are still rallying against the crime bill and Biden has been forced to apologize for it and explain his past actions. But back before the bill was passed, one man led the push against it. That was 13-term Congressman and former Oakland mayor Rep. Ron Dellums, who co-founded the Congressional Back Caucus.
“A common DNC racist trope. The CBC can support racism in Palestine b/c it needs domestic AIPAC support, what does that mean for judging the actual policy, the career trafficking & judgement? Ron Dellums, co-founder of the CBC, voted against w/ 134 members of Congress,” Moguldom Nation founder Jamarlin Martin tweeted.
Dellums died in 2018 at age 82 after a battle with cancer. A Democratic representative from California, he was born the son of a longshoreman and rose to become one of America’s best-known Black congressmen.
Dellums was branded “an out-and-out radical” during his first congressional campaign by Republican U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew. It was meant as a slight but Dellums took as a badge of honor, Reuters reported.
“If it’s radical to oppose the insanity and cruelty of the Vietnam War, if it’s radical to oppose racism and sexism and all other forms of oppression, if it’s radical to want to alleviate poverty, hunger, disease, homelessness and other forms of human misery, then I’m proud to be called a radical,” Dellums told reporters at the time.
Dellums stood out because he approached the government with “a left-wing agenda that put civil rights and programs for people ahead of weapons systems and warfare,” The New York Times reported.
Before entering politics, Dellums was a social worker representing Oakland and Berkeley. He went to Washington, D.C. in 1971 and at the time, was known as the country’s most liberal congressman. He went there to make a difference.
Dellums was a former military man, having served in the Marines.
He demanded a House investigation into U.S. war crimes in Vietnam. When this didn’t happen, he held his own informal hearings which grabbed national attention. “As antiwar protests raged outside the Capitol, a former Army sergeant told in unsworn testimony how he and his platoon had massacred 30 men, women and children in a Vietnamese village. It was a shocking beginning,” The New York Times reported.
After completing his tour, Dellums attended Oakland City College, where he earned his associate’s degree. He continued his education at San Francisco State University and then went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his master’s degree in social work.
Dellums went to work with the California Department of Mental Hygiene as a psychiatric social worker in 1962. He later became the program director of the Bayview Community Center in 1964, and a year later became the associate director and, then, director of Hunters Point Youth Opportunity Center. In 1967, Dellums was elected to the Berkeley City Council. He also began work as a part-time lecturer at San Francisco State College and the Berkeley Graduate School of Social Welfare.
In Congress, Dellums was outspoken. He led a 15-year effort to enact U.S. sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid government.
When Clinton and Biden introduced the 1994 Crime Bill, Dellums fought against it.
In 1994, criminologists, civil-rights lawyers, community activists, and members of Congress fought against various provisions of the bill, The Nation reported. Rep. Dellums, co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, and 169 members of the House voted against it, along with 34 senators.
When Dellums retired in 1998, halfway through his term, many people were shocked.
“So here comes this Black guy from the Bay Area,” he told The Progressive magazine when he left Congress, “talking about peace, feminism, challenging racism, challenging the priorities of the country, and talking about preserving the fragile nature of our ecological system. People looked at me as if I was a freak. And looking back, I think that the only crime we committed was that we were 20 years ahead of our time.”
Dellums became a lobbyist, launching his own Washington, D.C. firm and representing clients in transportation, pharmaceuticals, and health insurance. He later went on to become the mayor of Oakland in 2007 and served one term.
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 73: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin makes the case for why this is a multi-factor rebellion vs. just protests about George Floyd. He discusses the Democratic Party’s sneaky relationship with the police in cities and states under Dem control, and why Joe Biden is a cop and the Steve Jobs of mass incarceration.
In 2000, Dellums published an autobiography, “Lying Down With the Lions: A Public Life from the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power,” written with his longtime spokesman, H. Lee Halterman.