Former President Bill Clinton said Friday he regretted drowning out the chants of black protesters at a rally in Philadelphia the day before, when he issued an aggressive defense of his administration’s impact on black families. His reaction thrust a debate about the 1990s into the center of his wife’s presidential campaign, one that has focused heavily on issues of race and criminal justice.
“I know those young people yesterday were just trying to get good television,” Mr. Clinton said Friday of the Black Lives Matter protesters who interrupted him Thursday in accusing Hillary Clinton of being responsible for black deaths. “But that doesn’t mean that I was most effective in answering it.”
It was a remarkable reversal for Mr. Clinton, who has had to campaign for his wife in an era when the signature policies of his administration have been repudiated both by Mrs. Clinton and her opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
None of those issues has been more central to the 2016 campaign than the 1994 crime bill, which created tougher penalties for nonviolent drug offenders, erected dozens of new prisons and deluged American cities with more police officers.
In June 1992, Gwen Ifill reported at The New York Times:
Aggressively rebutting the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Gov. Bill Clinton said today that he would not "back down on what I said" at the conference of the Rainbow Coalition last weekend about remarks attributed to a rap performer.
"I bragged on the Rainbow Coalition and its programs," Mr. Clinton told reporters as he entered a radio station, defending his speech at the conference. "I criticized divisive language by Sister Souljah. If Jesse Jackson wants to align himself with that now and claim that's the way he felt, then that's his business."