Bill Clinton: “I Almost Want to Apologize” For Controversial Comments in Philly

“I was talking past her the way she was talking past me,” Bill Clinton said of his exchange with a protester in Mt. Airy on Thursday.

Erica Mines, Rufus Farmer, Bill Clinton - protest sign

From left: Erica Mines protests Bill Clinton’s speech, Rufus Farmer shows one of his protest signs after the rally, and Bill Clinton speaks in support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in Mt. Airy on Thursday afternoon.

Bill Clinton is sort of sorry for what happened in Philadelphia yesterday.

At a rally at the Dorothy Emanuel rec center yesterday in Mt. Airy, Clinton got into it with protesters Erica Mines and Rufus Farmer. They had come to the Hillary Clinton rally to protest, holding signs that said things like “Clinton crime bill destroyed our communities.” When Bill Clinton said that his wife was one of the first people to talk about prison overpopulation, Mines shouted out.

The two then got into a protracted argument, with almost all the crowd siding with Clinton (obviously). Clinton ended up making an extended defense of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a bill that has attracted much criticism over the years. “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.” (For more on the exchange, read my full report from yesterday, including Mines comments from a post-rally interview with Philadelphia magazine.)

Speaking in Erie today, Clinton walked back some of his comments from yesterday.

In the past, Clinton has apologized for the crime bill, telling the NAACP last summer that he “signed a bill that made the problem worse.” Yesterday, he largely defended it. Today, he spoke more on it. According to MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, Clinton said “I did something yesterday in Philadelphia that I almost want to apologize for.”

“So these two [people] in the crowd got up and started screaming that they were angry about the crime bill and that I was responsible for mass incarceration,” Clinton said at the Erie rally today. “Which is interesting, since Hillary was the first candidate to say that there are too many young people in prison for too long for non-violent offenses and we need to let them out.

“It is true that it had longer sentencing provisions. It is true that they led to some people going to jail for too long in ways that cannot be justified. And I went to the NAACP convention and said that and said it was way past time to change. But I pointed out, as Hillary did, that you can’t just let these kids out of prison unless they have education, training, job placement, transition, support … anyway, that’s what I was trying to say but she didn’t want me to say it.

“So I rather vigorously defended my wife, as I am wont to do. And I realized eventually that I was talking past her the way she was talking past me. We gotta stop that in this country. We gotta listen to each other. You’re living in a country where young African-Americans think their number one threat is police officers. In that crime bill, they knew what their number one threat was: It was from gangs making money out of cocaine, taking teenage kids, huffing them up, giving them guns, and telling them to go kill other teenagers to prove their bones.

“It’s different. We all have different experiences. We cannot learn anything unless we listen. And we are all, just as I was yesterday, vulnerable to get at some point where somebody says something and say, ‘I don’t want to listen to this anymore.’ She said you ought to apologize to Rwanda. I didn’t send troops into Rwanda. I apologized for it 18 years ago, and I wrote about it in my book. … The point is, that we’re all vulnerable to saying something we don’t like and finding one fact that we can take out of context and then condemning someone else.”

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