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Bill Clinton tangles with Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia

The former president sparred with protesters in Philadelphia Thursday over everything from American imperialism to the 1994 crime bill.

PHILADELPHIA -- There were only two Black Lives Matters protesters at a Bill Clinton event in Philadelphia Thursday, but they dominated his appearance at a recreation center, engaging in a heated back and forth with the former president for more than 10 minutes over everything from American imperialism to the 1994 crime bill.

The former president at first seemed to take the interruption in stride, giving lengthy defenses of controversial policies from his administration, and of comments made by his wife. He went back and forth with the protesters and never called for their removal. “I like protestors, but the ones that won’t let you answer are afraid of the truth,” he said to cheers. Clinton noted that his wife has won huge margins with African-Americans voters in Democratic primaries this year, and that she has received the endorsement of civil rights groups and the Congressional Black Caucus. One protester held a sign condemning Hillary Clinton’s invocation in 1996 of the term “super predators," a now debunked theory about the children of criminals. The former secretary of state said earlier this year that she regrets using the term, but her husband seemed to defend her Thursday. “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 into the street to murder other African American children," Clinton fired back at a protester. "Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t."

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“You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth,” he said. Clinton also defended his attempt to crack down on crime in the 1990s, during the height of the drug's epidemic, including the 1994 crime bill that has become so controversial in this year’s Democratic primary. "I talked to a lot of African-American groups. They thought black lives mattered. They said take this bill because our kids are being shot in the street by gangs," Clinton said. "We had 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals." Clinton noted that Vice President Joe Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was a champion of the bill. The audience repeatedly cheered for Clinton and tried to drown out the protesters, and the disruption continued as police hovered but did not eject the activists. The heated discussion consumed a large chunk of Clinton’s time on stage.

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Interruptions by Black Lives Matters activists have been common on the campaign trail this year, but rarely do they lead to a lengthy exchange like this. “I’ll tell you another story about a place where black lives matter: Africa,” Clinton said at one point before diving into the work he and his wife have done to stem the AIDS epidemic in the continent. When police tried to remove one protester after Clinton left the chair, he resisted by grabbing a bench and then a metal rack as two officers pulled him. The other protester, Erica Mines, said America is an inherently racist country and that no politician will be able to fix that.

“No, I don’t want to listen to Bill Clinton," Mines told reporters. "He’s not a black man. He doesn’t represent the black community at all. I don’t care how much of the saxophone he can play."

She held a sign calling Hillary Clinton a “murderer.”Mines told MSNBC the sign referenced Momar Gadhafi, the former dictator of Libya who was deposed and then killed in a rebellion championed by western governments and, inside the Obama administration, by then-Secretary of State Clinton. “I'm referring to the interview she did where she laughed about the murder of Gadhafi in Libya and her quote was simply, we came, we saw and he died. That was her quote. She’s a murderer. She’s a destroyer of lives, specifically those that want to fight against imperialism,” Mines said. Asked if she had any other evidence to level a murder charge, Mines said. “I don’t have to go into the details of that, but she knows.”