Bill Clinton was interrupted by a group of Black Lives Matter activists as he gave a speech on behalf of his wife, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, in Philadelphia on Thursday. The exchange quickly turned combative.
As the organizers criticized Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the infamous 1994 crime bill, her husband initially responded by claiming he welcomed protesters. Then he turned more confrontational, shouting poverty statistics to defend the trends that emerged from the policies he helped enact, such as harsher criminal sentencing and the gutting of welfare programs.
“I love—look, at every campaign rally, I welcome the protesters,” the former president said. “I had a guy in South Carolina interrupt me, and the crowd started booing him, and I said, ‘No, let’s be quiet and listen to him,’ and let him say the same thing twice. I said, ‘May I answer?’ and he just kept screaming.”
Clinton pleaded with the audience to “tell the whole story.”
“I talked to a lot of African American groups, they thought black lives mattered,” he said, referring to his crime bill. “They said to take this bill, because our kids are being shot in the street by gangs. We have 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals. She”—he pointed to a protester in the crowd—”don’t want to hear any of that. You know what else 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 that and the background check law, we had a 46-year low in the deaths of people by gun violence. And who you think those lives were? That mattered. Whose lives were saved?”
Clinton’s remarks come almost a year after he renounced the very same crime bill, implying that he knew at the time that some of the sentencing provisions were too harsh, but that that concern was trumped by his desire to pass the overall bill. Clinton appeared to take the opposite stance on Thursday, asserting that the policies of his administration were worth it because of how many black lives were allegedly saved.
Amid chants of “HRC, HRC” from Hillary Clinton supporters in the crowd, Bill Clinton continued to shout statistics in an attempt to show the Philadelphia organizers that their anger was misplaced. Throughout his remarks, he repeatedly referred to some of the female protesters as “girls.”
“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 onto the street to murder other African American children,” Clinton said. “You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.”