Former president says heated exchange over his 1994 crime bill exemplifies ‘the danger threatening our country … we’ve got to listen to each other again’ Bill Clinton came close to an apology today for engaging in a heated exchange with Black Lives Matter protesters while stumping for his wife Hillary Clinton on Thursday.
Former President Bill Clinton had a tense and prolonged exchange with Black Lives Matter protesters at a Hillary Clinton campaign event today in Philadelphia.
During a campaign event in Erie, Pennsylvania, the former president brought up the incident in Philadelphia that has since gone viral, acknowledging that he had failed to listen to activists protesting against his 1994 crime bill.
Protester Rosco Farmer is corralled in the back of the auditorium by civil affairs officers near the end of Bill Clinton’s rally for Hillary Clinton.
“I like and believe in protests,” Clinton told the crowd at Penn State Behrend. “But I never thought I should drown anybody else out. And I confess – maybe it’s just a sign of old age – but it bothers me now when that happens.”
He added: “I almost want to apologize for it, but I want to use it as an example of the danger threatening our country.”
When confronted by protesters the day before, Clinton issued a sharp defense of the tough-on-crime legislation he signed as president that paved the way for mass incarceration. He also recycled language about black teenagers that Hillary Clinton has since distanced herself from.
“I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and send them out in the street to murder other African American children,” a fired-up Clinton told the protesters, before adding of his wife: “Maybe you thought they were good citizens, she didn’t. She didn’t.”
Hillary Clinton has charted her own path on crime during her second bid for president, particularly as criminal justice reform has emerged as a key issue in the 2016 cycle. She has specifically conceded that the bill signed by her husband had unintended consequences with regard to imposing lengthy sentences for non-violent offenses and disproportionately affecting minorities.
Bill Clinton has in the past taken a similar view, which made his outburst on Thursday all the more unexpected.Reflecting further today, the former president said he missed the broader point while “rather vigorously” defending his wife against the attacks.
“I realized, finally, I was talking past [the protester] the way she was talking past me. We’ve got to stop that in this country. We’ve got to listen to each other again,” he said.
Clinton also made clear once more that his bill did, in fact, contribute to some of the systemic problems within the criminal justice system.
“It is true it had longer sentence provisions,” he said. “It is true that they led to some people going to jail for too long in ways that cannot be justified.”