Why Bill Clinton’s clash with Black Lives Matter won't affect Hillary’s black vote

Despite confrontations with the Black Lives Matter activists, Hillary Clinton still commands a strong support among black voters, including in the upcoming polls.

Ed Hille/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
Former President Bill Clinton has a heated exchange with a protester during a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Thursday April 7, 2016, in Philadelphia. Bill Clinton was interrupted by people in the crowd holding signs reading "Clinton crime bill destroyed our communities" and "Welfare reform increased poverty."

At a rally in support of Hillary Clinton ahead of Pennsylvania's Democratic primary, former president Bill Clinton clashed with the protestors of the Black Lives Matter movement in the latest flare-up between its activists and Mrs. Clinton's campaign trail.

Holding several signs against the former president's crime policies, which the protesters say are responsible for incarcerating a disproportionate number of African-Americans, the protestors interrupted Mr. Clinton's speech to criticize Mrs. Clinton's support of a crime bill enacted during his own presidency in the mid-1990s. "Clinton's crime bill destroyed our communities," one sign read.

"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," Mr. Clinton told the protesters, alluding to the activists' criticism of speech his wife gave in 1996 in which she referenced the term "superpredators" –coined by John DiIulio, a professor at Princeton, and used to describe increasing number of young African-American men who committed high-end crimes without any seeming remorse. She apologized for the statement in February.

"Maybe you thought they were good citizens. [Hillary] didn't....You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth," Mr. Clinton added.

Since she started her campaign, Mrs. Clinton has had to confront the consequences of the crime bill, often encountering Black Lives Matter protesters at campaign rallies, where they demand an explanation as to why she endorsed the tough-on-crime measure.

Yet she continues to be popular among black voters. In the recent primaries she commanded a stronger support than her Democratic rival Sen. Bernie Sanders among African-Americans, often by double-digit margins.

And the confrontation in Philadelphia may have caused a widespread outrage among the activists and other Clinton critics, but it's unlikely to have a significant impact on her command of the African-American vote in the upcoming primaries. Clinton leads Senator Sanders among Maryland's black voters by 63 percent to 33 percent in a new Washington Post–University of Maryland poll, and by 66 to 31 percent in New York in one from Quinnipiac University. 

While many activists blame Mrs. Clinton for some of the misfortunes facing African-Americans today, a majority of black voters do not. Part of the reason, as The Christian Science Monitor's Henry Gass wrote in March, is that "black communities are aware that for decades they [themselves] were some of the loudest advocates for tough drug laws."

"Black Lives Matter is made up of very young people who are not aware of the situation that was going in the 1980s and 1990s," California resident Jackie Reid tells the Christian Science Monitor in a telephone interview. "People in large cities remember what it was like at that time. Everybody wanted something to be done, and they all supported the three-strikes law to stop the crimes."

"That's something these young people don't know. I think that young people need to be educated about the history, because that's what's lacking," she says, adding that Mrs. Clinton's use of the word "superpredators" was in reference to how bad the situation was.

The measure, which was enacted in the mid-1990s, received a bi-partisanship support at the time. It was endorsed by African-American leaders and community members who saw it a solution to the era's high crime rates, the Monitor reported.

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