Bernie Sanders has called on former President Bill Clinton to apologise over comments he made defending a controversial crime bill that had a dramatic and devastating impact on African Americans.
Earlier this week, Mr Clinton was confronted by Black Lives Matter protesters as he campaigned for his wife in New York. The activists held banners that read “Clinton Crime Bill Destroyed Our Communities”.
Mr Clinton pointed at the protesters and said: “I don’t know how you would characterise 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.”
Referring to his wife’s stance, he added: “Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t.”
Throughout the Democratic primary process, activists have sought to raise Ms Clinton’s role in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which passed through the Senate with the help of Joe Biden, now the Vice President but who then served as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ms Clinton spoke in support of the bill in 1996, saying that the young people being jailed were “not just gangs of kids anymore”.
Many believe the bill, which toughened sentences for the use of drugs such as crack cocaine, promoted longer sentences, expanded the death penalty and included the notorious three-strikes rule, led to era of mass incarceration in which African American constitute 1 million of the 2.3 million people behind bars, and which Ms Clinton now rails against.
Mr Sanders supported the 1994, which was signed into law by Mr Clinton. He said he did so because he supported certain elements within he bill which helped increase legal protections for women from domestic violence.
On Saturday night, at campaign event at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, ahead of the New York state primary on April 19, Mr Sanders was asked about Mr Clinton’s comments in the week.
“I think the president owes the American people an apology for trying to defend the indefensible,” he said. “The philosophy was to get votes by beating up with the poorest people in the society, by cutting benefits. We are not going to do that.”
Mr Clinton later said he regretted the way he defended the 1994 bill.
“I know those young people yesterday were just trying to get good television,” Mr Clinton said on Friday. “But that doesn’t mean that I was most effective in answering it.”
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