As a response to significant backlash and possible damage to his wife’s 2016 presidential campaign, former President Bill Clinton said that he regretted his words at a Philadelphia rally Thursday where protesters challenged him on his 1994 crime bill, and he went toe-to-toe with them from the stage.
“We see all these rallies interrupted by people that are angry. Now, I like and believe in protests. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t, because I engaged in some when I was a kid, but I never thought I should drown anyone else out,” Clinton said at a rally in Erie, Pa., on Friday, according to CNN.
“And I confess maybe it’s just a sign of old age, but it bothers me now when that happens. So I did something yesterday in Philadelphia I almost want to apologize for, but I want to use it as an example of the danger threatening our country,” he continued. “I know those young people yesterday were just trying to get good television, and they did, but that doesn’t mean I was most effective in answering it.”
The protesters, labeled Black Lives Matter activists, have confronted both Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton, during the campaign season, both about the bill itself—which many believe led to the current carceral state, in which millions of African Americans are locked up—and about words attributed to Hillary Clinton in support of the bill, calling black youths “superpredators who must be brought to heel.”
“I don’t know how you would characterize gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African-American children,” Bill Clinton said Thursday to protesters, waving a finger. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t,” he said, referring to his spouse.
He added, “You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter,” as protesters held up signs that read “Clinton Crime Bill Destroyed Our Communities” and “Black Youth Are Not Super Predators.”
“Tell the truth,” Bill Clinton told them.
Both Hillary Clinton and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders have recently gone on record saying that the 1994 crime bill went too far, and conceded the damage it has done to African Americans and their communities.
At a convention of the NAACP last July, Bill Clinton himself said the law sent low-level criminals to prison “for way too long” and “made the problem worse,” according to the New York Times.
But on Thursday, the former president seemed to get quite defensive when interrupted by young black men and women about the policy. By Friday, he backtracked on his backtrack.
Hillary Clinton, who many say has been forced to address criminal justice because of Black Lives Matter protesters, has said she is in favor of overhauling an obviously broken system. Last April, according to the Times, she devoted her first major policy speech to overturning key parts of the crime bill. “It’s time to end the era of mass incarceration,” she said.
Bill Clinton may or may not agree.