Democratic Voter Confronts Clinton Over Crime Bill at Two Separate Town Halls

Hillary Clinton / AP
April 26, 2016

A Democratic voter who previously served six years in prison confronted Hillary Clinton during a town hall Monday over her support for the 1994 crime bill just five days after he was dissatisfied with her "canned" answer to his question on the same topic at a separate television event.

William Cobb, 46, first asked Clinton about the crime bill during a town hall last week on ABC’s Good Morning America but sought a second appearance during an MSNBC town hall on Monday to ask about criminal justice issues. He was unhappy with the Democratic presidential frontrunner‘s initial response, according to a Washington Post article.

Cobb told Clinton during the ABC event last Thursday that he served six years in prison for robbery and worked hard after his release in 2000 to get his life back together.

"It was extremely difficult, though, because of 44,000 collateral consequences, many resulting from the crime bill you previously supported," Cobb said. "As a result if you are elected president of the United States, how much money will you attach to efforts that are aimed at restoring the lives of the people and the communities that have been impacted adversely by the 1994 crime bill?"

Clinton, whose husband Bill singed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 into law as president, said that she has acknowledged there are "problems" that need to be addressed with the bill, which was meant to counter the uptick in violent crime at the time. She promised if elected president to "divert more people away from the criminal justice system;" to "address the unequal effects of the criminal justice system on people of color, particularly African American men;" and to provide more second-chance opportunities for criminals after being released from prison.

Cobb told the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple Blog that he was not "satisfied" with Clinton’s "canned answer" and wanted to get her on record about "billions of dollars on reentry and post-entry programs."

He then appeared at an MSNBC town hall five days later to ask the presumptive Democratic nominee again about the crime bill.

"Secretary Clinton, good seeing you again," he began, before noting that the bill invested large sums of money to put more police officers on the streets and gave states more resources to build prisons. "So my question to you is, if you are elected president of the United States, are you willing to make billion-dollar investments and restore the lives of people and communities that have been adversely impacted by the 1994 crime bill?"

"The answer is yes," Clinton responded. She argued that systemic racism is a problem in the criminal justice system and said there needs to be focus both on preventing people from committing crimes and doing something to help those who are out of prison.

Cobb is leaning toward supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), Clinton’s primary challenger and a self-declared socialist, who voted for the crime bill himself in 1994.

Cobb’s question at the MSNBC town hall was less aggressive than his first one, which seemed to imply that the crime bill ruined peoples’ lives.

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton have faced criticism on the campaign trail from activists for their support of the 1994 crime bill. Bill Clinton, for example, was confronted by Black Lives Matters protestors earlier this month for signing the crime bill into law, and vigorously defended the legislation until the next day, when he acknowledged that the bill had negative consequences that need to be fixed.

Hillary Clinton has faced scrutiny for calling young criminals "super-predators" back in 1994, with protestors repeatedly calling on her to apologize for her comments.