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Story highlights

Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted Bill Clinton's speech in Philadelphia

The former president defended his wife against her past comments

(CNN) —  

Bill Clinton traded verbal shots in a feisty 15-minute exchange with Black Lives Matter protesters in Philadelphia on Thursday, as he defended his wife’s presidential bid.

The protesters shouted that “black youth are not super predators,” taking issue with a phrase then-first lady Hillary Clinton used in a 1996 speech about violent crime committed by young people. They heckled Bill Clinton for the 1994 crime bill he signed into law as president that cracked down on gangs but also put more non-violent offenders in prison for longer stays.

“You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter,” the former president told protesters.

One protester’s signs declared, in an apparent reference to the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, that “Hillary is a murderer.” The protesters repeatedly shouted over Clinton, ignoring his responses and invoking Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, as well.

In the exchange, Clinton repeatedly said, “I love protesters” – but complained that they wouldn’t let him respond. “Here’s the thing. I like protesters, but the ones that won’t let you answer are afraid of the truth. That’s a simple rule,” Clinton said.

He said the tougher criminal penalties were added on the advice of then-Sen. Joe Biden, who told Clinton they were necessary to get Republicans on board with the bill, which also included an assault weapons ban, more money for police officers and funding for out-of-school activities for inner-city children.

“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. We had 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals,” Clinton said.

He touted Hillary Clinton’s work on school desegregation in Alabama with the Children’s Defense Fund at age 27, saying she was instrumental to ending a practice that allowed white school leaders to exclude black students.

He also defended Hillary Clinton’s use of the phrase “super predators.”

“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 in the streets to murder other African-American children,” the former president said. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens – she didn’t.”

Hillary Clinton was confronted by protesters earlier this year over the use of the term.

“They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super predators,’” Clinton said in a 1996 speech, when crime was a major public concern, according to polls at the time. “No conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

After the protest incident in February, Clinton’s campaign put out a statement saying she shouldn’t have used those words.