Bill Clinton Appears to Defend Hillary's 'Super Predator' Remarks

Confronted by a Black Lives Matter protester Thursday, former President Bill Clinton defended his 1994 crime bill, which his wife has backed away from. Mike Segar/Reuters

Speaking in Philadelphia on Thursday, former President Bill Clinton defended his 1994 crime bill, which brought increases in death penalty use, the lengths of sentences and the size of the prison population.

Clinton's remarks represented a break with his wife's positions on criminal justice. In recent months, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has argued that the "tough on crime" policies of her husband's administration were often too tough and had a disproportionate effect on blacks and Latinos.

Criminal justice reform has become an increasingly important element recently in the race for the White House, with both Democrats and Republicans calling for reforms. But the former president, challenged on his criminal justice record by protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement, stood firm Thursday. "Because of that bill, we had a 25-year low in crime," he said.

He also appeared to defend his spouse's now-infamous comments about "super-predators"—children whom Hillary Clinton described, in a 1996 speech, as having "no conscience" and "no empathy." Her remarks were criticized by some activists, who said the concept of "super predators" was a fiction used to advance unjust, racially discriminatory criminal justice legislation like the 1994 crime bill, which was championed by then-Senator Joe Biden, virtually all Democrats in Congress and then-Representative Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton later apologized for the remarks, but protesters have not let her, or her husband, forget.

During his speech Thursday, one protester held a sign that said, "Hillary Is a Murderer!" Another heckled the former president. In response, Clinton seemed to suggest that some of those his crime bill put behind bars belonged there—and that his wife agreed with him. "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. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn't."

He added, "You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter."

But Clinton also sought to put some distance between his wife's record and his own, telling the crowd that his wife, who didn't hold elected office when he was president, didn't vote for the bill and that she lobbied for more lenient sentences for nonviolent offenders.