Hillary and Bill Clinton campaigned in historic black churches in Harlem and Queens Sunday, with the former president acknowledging criticisms of welfare and prison legislation passed when he was in office.
With nine days until New York’s Democratic primary, the visits follow a dispute in Philadelphia last Thursday between the former president and protesters who claimed the laws — referred to as the 1994 Crime Bill — disproportionately hurt African Americans.
Bill Clinton said at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem that “we overdid it putting too many nonviolent offenders in jail too long,” adding, “Let these people out of jail.”
Later, at the Antioch Baptist Church in Harlem, Bill Clinton explained that he “tried to start undoing it [elements of the 1994 crime bill] by “letting young women out of jail” earlier than their sentences called for. He was referring to “girlfriend cases,” in which the women who dated drug dealers received harsher sentences because they wouldn’t testify against their boyfriends.
Hillary Clinton also addressed the law as she appeared unannounced at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens, with senior pastor, the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former U.S. Congressman. “I know some people are heartsick over the criminal justice system, and what it’s done,” she said, to loud applause from the predominantly African-American church.
The crowd also applauded her reference to gun violence taking the lives of too many children. “Enough. Enough,” she said.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, and her opponent in the primary, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have criticized the crime bill. Sanders on Saturday asked the former president to apologize for the law during an appearance at the Apollo Theater with the entertainer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte.
Hillary Clinton leads Sanders, who grew up in Brooklyn, in delegate counts and in recent New York polls. Sanders has won eight of the past nine contests and has sharpened his criticism of Clinton in the past week.
In asking for the Greater Allen AME congregation’s vote in the April 19 primary, Hillary Clinton said she has “loved serving the state,” alluding to her days as a U.S. senator from New York. Clinton added that she wanted to continue building on President Barack Obama’s legacy. “I want to serve you again,” she said.
New York City is the latest battleground in this year’s primary campaign.
Bill Clinton, introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) at the three Harlem churches, recalled his own work to lower the unemployment rate and highlighted his wife’s positions, such as reducing the debt for college students. He cited the period of economic prosperity that came during his presidency, from 1993 to 2001.
“We can do it again,” Bill Clinton said.
Bill Clinton also spoke at the Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, the New York Hall of Science in Queens, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Protesters greeted Bill Clinton at the New York Hall of Science, citing the death of environmental activist Berta Caceres, who was found shot to death in her home in Honduras on March 2. A woman shouted “war criminal” as New York Police Department officers escorted her out. Protests were overtaken by chants of “Hillary, Hillary.”