ERIE, Pennsylvania – Bill Clinton issued a near-apology Friday for his role in a lengthy and heated exchange with Black Lives Matters protesters a day earlier in Philadelphia.
“Now I like and believe in protests. I'd be a hypocrite if I didn’t cause I engaged in some when I was a kid,” Clinton told a crowd of more than 1,000 on the campus of Penn State Behrend. “But 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.”
“So 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,” the former president continued.
Americans need to be able to have conversations with people they agree with and keep an open mind, Clinton said. While he said he believed the two protesters who interrupted him failed to do that, he said realized he did too.
“I rather vigorously defended my wife, as I am want to do, and I realized, finally, I was talking past [the protester] the way she was talking past me. We gotta stop that in this country. We gotta listen to each other again,” the former president said.
Black Lives Matters activists have been a fixture of the 2016 campaign trail, but few of their protests lead to the kind of exchange that occurred in Philadelphia.
The former president and the two activists who held signs like “Hillary is a murderer” went back and forth for more the 10 minutes.
“I know those young people yesterday were just trying to get good television and they did. But that doesn’t mean that I was most effective in answering it,” Clinton said.
And he suggested the activists were on his side. “We can’t be fighting our friends, we got enough trouble with the people that aren’t for us,” he added, presumably referring to Republicans.
Clinton has walked back some of the policies his administration supported and the legislation it signed into law in the 1990s, during the height of the crack epidemic.
On Thursday, he seemed more interested din defending his record, but on Friday he was more conciliatory. He noted, for instance, that he went to the NAACP to call for change to the controversial 1994 crime bill, which he said “led to some people going to jail for too long, in ways that cannot be justified.”