Hillary Clinton Defends Bill’s Comments to Philly Protestors

Bill Clinton defended his 1994 crime bill to protestors in a heated exchange last Thursday in Mt. Airy.

Hillary Clinton (center, Matt Rourke, AP). Protesters (left) and Bill Clinton (right, photos Dan McQuade).

Hillary Clinton (center, Matt Rourke, AP). Protesters (left) and Bill Clinton (right, photos Dan McQuade).

Last Thursday, former president Bill Clinton was interrupted by protestors during his speech in Mt. Airy as he campaigned for his wife’s presidential run. Instead of ignoring the disruptors — who were criticizing Clinton’s 1994 crime bill by holding signs and yelling criticisms — Clinton shouted back in defense of his policies.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton came to her husband’s defense while also trying to temper the seriousness of the argument he had with the protestors, Erica Mines and Rufus Farmer. She touted his “great legacy” in criminal justice reform, most notably his 1994 crime bill, but did acknowledge that she would improve on his policies as president.

“If we’re going to talk about his eight years as president, we should talk about everything, and he said last summer to the N.A.A.C.P. that a lot of good things happened to try to lower crime, save lives, and all of that,” Clinton said. “But clearly some things happened that were not foreseen and need to be now addressed, and I think that’s good leadership.”

Those things that were not foreseen include the over-incarceration of people who commit non-violent and other low-level crimes. “One of the consequences, in my view, is over-incarceration of people who should not have been in the criminal justice system,” she said. “They have an addiction problem, a mental health problem, they have committed a low-level offense, a non-violent offense. So I want to divert people from the criminal justice system and from being incarcerated.”

One of the signs held by a protestor at Thursday’s rally read “Clinton crime bill destroyed our communities,” ostensibly by jailing those who may not have deserved it for long periods of time.

As part of his rebuttal, Clinton rattled off the bill’s successes. “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,” he said. “And who do you think those lives were? Whose lives were saved?”

Speaking in Erie the next day, President Clinton made a partial apology for his actions, not because of what he said, but how he treated the dissenters. He acknowledged that he was too dismissive of Mines’ critique. “So I rather vigorously defended my wife, as I am wont to do,” he said. “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.”

Clinton’s assessment here is likely accurate, as Mines and Farmer seemed to allege that Clinton’s administration greatly reduced crime statistics at the expense of black communities throughout the country. Had the former president listened to their critiques more closely, he may have been able to better address their concerns.

Despite the incident, Hillary maintained that her husband has been an asset to her presidential campaign. Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by a significant margin in polls for the Pennsylvania primary, which will be held April 26th.

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