Midnight basketball was a 1990s initiative to curb inner-city crime in the United States by keeping urban youth off the streets and engaging them with alternatives to drugs and crime. It was originally founded by G. Van Standifer in the late 1980s in the United States.
In 1994, Bill Clinton pushed for an anti-crime bill that would lead to 100,000 more police officers as well as a number of programs intended to "deter crime where it starts" by providing "community activities like midnight basketball." The plan was widely lampooned by conservatives such as House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, who cited midnight basketball as an ineffective and wasteful use of federal funds. Some, such as Rush Limbaugh, even called the proposal racist, given the largely African American populations targeted by the program. Midnight basketball was not a proposal unique to the Democrats as it was one of George H. W. Bush's "Thousand points of light."
At the time of its inception, despite being racially coded, it was a relatively unknown and uncontroversial piece of policy innovation. However, once President Clinton's anti-crime bill was being debated about five years after the creation of Midnight Basketball, it became a highly contentious part of the bill. This was striking because the initiative only made up $50 million of the original $33 billion bill. Midnight Basketball's initiative was already racially coded, so when lawmakers were discussing whether it was a positive or negative part of this massive bill, it was part of a covert racial dialogue. When Midnight Basketball was discussed in the media in relation to the anti-crime bill, 98.2 percent of the time it was being shown negatively was when it was coming from an identifiable conservative-Republican. On the other hand, when a liberal-Democratic source discussed it, it was shown in a positive light 97.9 percent of the time. Midnight Basketball became the symbol of the overall anti-crime bill struggle. Specifically, it allowed racial issues to be explicitly talked about, and because Midnight Basketball was almost completely for crime prevention in minorities, it helped make young African-American men the face of crime.
Empirically, a 2006 study of the 1990-1994 period during which rates of most crimes in the United States peaked, and when urban midnight basketball programs were first initiated as a crime-prevention strategy, found that—while confounding factors were likely involved—property crime rates fell more rapidly in cities that were early adopters of the original midnight basketball model than in other American cities in the same period.
- Clinton, Bill (1994-06-18). Presidential Radio Address (Speech). Radio. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
- Franken, Al (2000-06-01). "Block That Rush!". The Nation. Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
- George H. W. Bush (April 12, 1991). Remarks on Signing the Points of Light National Celebration of Community Service Proclamation in Glenarden, Maryland (Speech). Glenarden Community Center, Maryland. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
- Midnight Basketball and the 1994 Crime Bill Debates: The Operation of a Racial Code Darren Wheelock and Douglas Hartmann, The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Spring, 2007), p. 319.
- Idelson, Holly. 1994. "Provisions: Anti-Crime Bills Compared." Congressional Quarterly Weekly, May 7, pp. 1147-1158.
- Midnight Basketball and the 1994 Crime Bill Debates: The Operation of a Racial Code Darren Wheelock and Douglas Hartmann, The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Spring, 2007), p. 323.
- Midnight Basketball and the 1994 Crime Bill Debates: The Operation of a Racial Code Darren Wheelock and Douglas Hartmann, The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Spring, 2007), p. 334-335.
- Hartmann, Douglas; Depro, Brooks (May 2006). "Rethinking Sports-Based Community Crime Prevention: A Preliminary Analysis of the Relationship Between Midnight Basketball and Urban Crime Rates". Journal of Sport and Social Issues 30 (2): 180–196. doi:10.1177/0193723506286863.
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