WATCH: Bill Clinton Spars With Protesters in Philly Over 1994 Crime Bill
Erica Mines said she didn’t plan on shouting at Bill Clinton on Thursday afternoon.
Mines attended a rally for Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign, but she’s not a supporter of Clinton’s candidacy. She said she isn’t supporting any candidate. She and Rufus Farmer, both Philadelphia residents, held up protest signs during Clinton’s speech to the 440 people in attendance.
“Clinton crime bill destroyed our communities,” read one. “Black people are not super predators,” said another. That second sign was a reference to a 1996 speech Hillary Clinton gave: “They’re not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators: No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
Mines said she just wanted to stand there and silently protest until Clinton supporters surrounded her and tried to take the signs out of her hands. At about the midpoint of Clinton’s speech at the Dorothy Emanuel Playground’s basketball gym in Mt. Airy, she shouted at Clinton about the three strikes provisions in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
Before Mines spoke, the speech was your usual affair. Two Hillary team members gave speeches about why they supported her. Mayor Jim Kenney, City Councilwoman Marian Tasco and former Governor Ed Rendell spoke about their support of Hillary Clinton. Kenney said he met with Clinton for 90 minutes yesterday: “She was smart, engaged, kind, caring, empathetic.” Kenney called Rendell the best mayor in the city’s history. Rendell took that ball and ran with it: “Bill Clinton was the best president in my lifetime. After Hillary, I have a hunch that Bill Clinton will be the second best president in my lifetime. And you know what, he’ll be happy about being the second best president.”
Bill Clinton talked for about a half hour. He opened his speech with a shoutout to the Villanova Wildcats. Kris Jenkins’ last second shot won him some bragging rights at the very least. “I’ve got an office in Harlem and we always have a big basketball bracket pool,” Clinton said. “And, thanks to Villanova, for the first time in 15 years I won.” He then went though a variety of Hillary Clinton’s stances on the issues, with one little dig at Bernie Sanders: Clinton has been endorsed by Vermont’s governor and other senator.
Then came Mines’ shout, after Clinton said Hillary was “the first person that really talked about” how some people were in prison for too long for non-violent offenses. Mines shouted something at Clinton about the 1994 crime bill and its “three strikes” provisions. “I heard it,” Clinton replied. “Can I answer?” Mines shouted something back.
“We didn’t start out yelling or screaming at anybody,” Mines told Philadelphia magazine after the rally. “But as you can see, when you go against the popular thing at the time, we get labeled as thugs. We expressed ourself as the first amendment allows us to … but when somebody’s coming up to you, literally trying to take something out of your hands, literally putting their hands on you, and I’m now defending myself, when all I did was hold up a sign like everyone else. They asked me to put down my sign because they didn’t like that it didn’t say, ‘Hillary is God.’”
Twenty-plus years on, the 1994 crime bill has come under fierce criticism. The crime bill put more cops on the street. It also included an assault weapons ban (which expired 10 years later) and the Violence Against Women Act, but also created 41 new death penalty offenses (none of which have been used), eliminated federal funding for inmate education, made drug testing mandatory for those on supervised release and included a “three strikes, you’re out” provision.
Criminologist Mark Kleiman has written that though the crime bill didn’t start mass incarceration in the country, it “made the problem worse, and it contributed — directly through the money, indirectly through the rules, and even more indirectly by spreading truth in sentencing as a policy meme — to the policy of continuing to increase the size of the prison population as the crime rate collapsed.” Hillary Clinton has repudiated some of that bill that helped her husband win re-election in 1996. Bill Clinton himself has criticized parts of the bill he signed in September 1994.
But at the rally on Thursday, Bill Clinton largely defended it. “Here’s the thing,” he replied. “I like protesters. But the ones that won’t let you answer are afraid of the truth.” Clinton then answered her off the cuff. “What she’s referring to are the increased sentencing provisions of the 1994 crime bill,” he said. “Ninety percent of the people in prison too long are in the state prisons and local jails. … But it’s also true that there are too many people in the federal prisons.”
He then launched into his recap of how the crime bill came to be, though he was interrupted a few times by Mines and by Clinton supporters chanting “H-R-C” at her. “Here’s what happened,” Clinton said. “Vice President Biden … he was the chairman of this committee that has jurisdiction of this crime bill. I had an assault weapons ban in it. I had money for inner-city kids, out of school activities. We had 110,000 police officers so we could put people out on the street out in these military vehicles and the police would look like the people they were policing. We did all of that.
“And Biden said, you can’t pass this bill, the Republicans will repeal it, if you don’t put more sentencing in it. I talked to a lot of African-American groups, they thought that Black Lives Matter. They said, ‘Take this bill. Our kids are being shot in the street by gangs.’ We had 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals. She [Mines] doesn’t want to hear any of that. Here’s another thing she doesn’t want to hear: Because of that bill, we had a 25-year-low in crime, a 33-year-low in the murder rate and — listen to this — because of the background check law we had a 46-year-low in the deaths of people by gun violence. And who do you think those lives were? Whose lives were saved?”
Clinton was not done attacking Mines and Farmer. “I don’t know how you would characterize the 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,” Clinton said. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens. … You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.”
Speaking with Philadelphia magazine after the rally, Mines said she disagreed with Clinton’s defense of the 1994 crime bill. “People forget that the three strikes law put more people — specifically black people — in jail because they had a drug habit,” Mines said. “But now it’s a ‘heroin epidemic’ because there’s more white people affected by it. Now there’s this outcry for drug rehabilitation, but we were criminalized for it. Poverty, lack of jobs, poor education: All these things contribute to the use of drugs. When you live in a society that does nothing but beat you down and tell you that you’re worthless and they don’t create the spaces that allow you to better yourself, you should not be criminalized.
“I’m not here to say Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton is not a good person. This is not about whether I like them. Their politics have hurt the black community, and that’s all that there is. They don’t deserve the black vote.”
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