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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden conceded Thursday it was a "mistake" to support a now-controversial crime bill that critics say laid the groundwork for mass incarceration, but the former longtime senator still defended parts of the 1994 legislation.
Asked by ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos during a televised town hall in Philadelphia whether supporting the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was a mistake, Biden said: "Yes, it was."
But the former vice president blamed the worst effects of the law on how individual states chose to implement it.
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"Here's where the mistake came," he said. "The mistake came in terms of what the states did locally. What we did federally — you remember George, it was all about the same time for the same crime."
He also defended the legislation as indicative of its time, noting it had the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and Black mayors across the country. Still, he acknowledged the country's attitude on racial justice issues has shifted dramatically since President Bill Clinton signed the law.
“Things have changed,” he said.
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The candidate has previously said elements of the legislation were a "big mistake" because of its effect on the Black community.
Biden's comments come amid a reckoning in the U.S. on racial justice following a summer of protests over police brutality against Black Americans.
President Trump has repeatedly tried to tie Biden to unrest in American cities — which began in the spring following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in custody of a Minneapolis police officer — and to the "defund the police" movement, a push to reallocate funds from police departments toward other government programs intended to reduce crime and expand social welfare.
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"He's talking about defunding the police," Trump said during the first presidential debate. "He doesn't have any law support. He has no law enforcement support."
A group of more than 175 current and former law enforcement officials endorsed Biden at the beginning of September, calling Trump "lawless."
Biden has repeatedly distanced himself from defunding the police and has instead called for reforms to law enforcement, like giving additional funding for community policing. He pushed back against Trump's criticisms.
“Yes, I’m in favor of law and order," he said one month ago. "Law and order with justice, where people get treated fairly."
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