ERIE, Pa., April 8 (UPI) -- Former President William J. Clinton on Friday defended a crime bill he created 22 years ago, just hours after a verbal altercation in Philadelphia that saw hecklers aligned with the Black Lives Matter campaign interrupt his stumping speech there.
Clinton, campaigning in behalf of his wife's presidential bid, was targeted by several members of the eastern Pennsylvania audience, one of whom carried a sign that read, "Black youth are not super predators" -- a reference to a comment made in 1996 by then-first lady Hillary Clinton.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been critical of the crime bill, enacted in 1994, claiming it created a disproportionate number of blacks being imprisoned for non-violent offenses.
Clinton, though, took exception to the verbal assault Thursday.
In a 13-minute response, the former president said his bill lowered the national crime rate, diversified police forces and achieved bipartisan support:
"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 .... You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter. Tell the truth. You are defending the people who cause young people to go out and take guns."
"I talked to a lot of African-American groups. They thought black lives matter. They said take this bill, because our kids are being shot in the street by gangs. We have 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals...Because of that bill, we have a 25-year low in crime, a 33-year low in murder rate. And because of that and the background check law, we had a 46-year low in the deaths of people by gun violence, and who do you think those lives were? That mattered? Whose lives were saved that mattered?
Although the salty exchange didn't address Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, the former president noted that his wife worked in Alabama for the Children's Defense Fund as a young lawyer, and was instrumental in fighting the spread of HIV in Africa as U.S. Secretary of State during President Barack Obama's first term.
"Hillary didn't vote for [the crime] bill, because she wasn't in the Senate," Clinton said. "She was spending her time trying to get health care for poor kids. Who were they? And their lives mattered."
Friday, Clinton sounded apologetic for the altercation during a speech at Penn State Behrend in Erie, Pa.
"I never thought I should drown anybody else out. And I confess, maybe it's just a sign of old age, but it bothers me now when that happens," he said, adding that he believes people who disagree should be able to do so in a civil manner. "I did something yesterday in Philadelphia... I almost want to apologize for it, but I want to use it as an example of the danger threatening our country."
"I rather vigorously defended my wife, as I am wont to do, and I realized, finally, I was talking past [the female protester] the way she was talking past me. We gotta stop that in this country. We gotta listen to each other again," he continued.
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has also been targeted by Black Lives Matter activists. During an October speech in Atlanta, also interrupted by hecklers, she promised to end racial profiling by law enforcement and the sentencing disparity between cocaine and crack.
"I know those young people yesterday were just trying to get good television and they did," the former president said. "But that doesn't mean that I was most effective in answering it."