NEW YORK — Democratic White House hopeful Bernie Sanders said Saturday that former president Bill Clinton owes the country an apology for his apparent defense this week of Hillary Clinton’s past use of the term “superpredators” to describe repeat juvenile offenders.
Sanders’s assessment came during a spirited panel discussion on issues facing African Americans that his campaign hosted at the Apollo Theater in Harlem as part of busy day of campaigning across the city here.
“I think the president owes the American people an apology for trying to defend what’s indefensible,” Sanders told a crowd of more than 1,000 people packed into the historic theater at an event designed to showcase his outreach to African Americans in advance of the April 19 primary in New York.
Sanders was joined on stage by three fellow panelists, all of whom have endorsed him: Harry Belafonte, the legendary entertainer and civil rights activist; Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after being put in a choke hold by New York police; and Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator.
Early in the discussion, the moderator, Charlamagne tha God, a radio and television personality, asked the panelists what they thought of Bill Clinton’s recent remarks to Black Lives Matter activists who heckled him at an appearance in Philadelphia for his wife’s presidential campaign.
One of the protesters held a sign that declared, “Black youth are not super predators.” That was a reference to a Hillary Clinton comment in 1996 about “the kind of kids that are called super-predators” and the need “to bring them to heel.”
Pointing to the signs, the former president, said: “I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t!”
Asked for his thoughts on Bill Clinton’s comments, Sanders first responded with one word: “Unacceptable.”
“We all know what the term meant in the context that it was said years ago,” Sanders said after the applause died down. “We know who they were talking about.”
“Black people,” yelled someone in the audience.
“That’s exactly right,” Sanders said, “and I think the president owes the American people an apology for trying to defend what’s indefensible.”
Sanders also criticized the landmark welfare reform bill signed by Bill Clinton during his presidency in 1996, saying “the result of it was extreme poverty for the poorest of the poor.”
If elected president, Sanders pledged: “We’re not going to be beating up on the poor.”
Belafonte also took a shot at the Clintons.
“We have been there and done that,” he said in explaining his support for Sanders.
Later in the discussion, Sanders, who is Jewish, said his intense disgust for discrimination could be traced to learning about how much of his Polish father’s side of the family was killed in the Holocaust.
Sanders also relayed his civil rights activism in the 1960s as a student at the University of Chicago, which included protesting segregated schools and university housing.