This excerpt from Bill Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union address highlights the president’s commitment to expansive policing for a wide variety of situations, ranging from non-violent drug offenses to violent crime. Clinton’s State of the Union reflects an emergent political centrism: issues that had typically been understood as “conservative,” such as increased funds for police officers and agencies, are promoted alongside more familiar “liberal” ones, such as gun safety.
Community policing, a prevention-based policing concept of the police formalized in an executive session at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Criminal Justice in 1993, are consistently evoked. Public Law 103-322: Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 provided for the hiring of one hundred thousand new police officers; the president implores Americans to support these law enforcement officers, and for the officers to honor the trust of American communities. Like community policing, Clinton’s calls for housing authorities and tenants associations to severely punish non-violent drug offenders built upon the Broken Windows theory of policing introduced the decade prior. This preventative policing of behavior and minor infractions is supported by tougher punishments for violent crime, specifically Clinton’s calls for increased national gun control and for the FBI to investigate gang violence.
Clinton’s infamous decree of “one strike and you’re out” for residents of public housing would be formalized in the Housing Opportunity Program Extension Act of 1996, which ensured that public housing residents who engaged in illegal drug use on or off of public housing property would face certain eviction, along with their entire households. These remarks contributed not only to a culture that increasingly criminalized and incarcerated poverty, but one with a rapidly eroding value placed upon public housing.