The primary problem with the use of the word “superpredator” is that the predictions of a national bloodbath caused by out-of-control youth were just flat wrong. The facts on the ground never panned out as predicted. “Superpredators” who kill, rape and maim with absolutely no conscience or remorse do exist, but they exist in far smaller numbers than predicted. Unfortunately, our national and state legislators have greatly overreacted as a result.
In addition to being factually wrong, the other problem with the “superpredator” meme is that it became a synonym for urban black youth. As such, it dehumanized a generation of black teenagers as society cracked down more and more on teenage criminals. We will be dealing with the destructive consequences of that for many years to come. To be fair, this was not necessarily intentionally racist, and in many cases it was done out of a desire to protect black communities. But the consequences are what they are regardless of the intent.
After Hillary Clinton said she “regrets” using that term, her husband defended the word “superpredator” and defended his wife for using the word. Mr. Clinton is in an interesting position, simultaneously supporting his wife’s campaign for President while defending his own record as President. Sometimes, those two come into conflict, as we saw then. And we should be very clear: This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is a bipartisan policy failure.
It is easy to look back at the failures of the past and see where we were wrong. It is not nearly as easy to apply those lesson’s to the issues we face today. This is why we repeat the exact same mistakes over and over in a slightly different way, without recognizing we are doing the same thing today we have done in the past. Learning from the mistakes of the moral panic about “superpredators” is only useful to the extent it helps us recognize where we are wrong today.