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'Things have changed':

will Biden tackle his crime bill 's racial legacy?

The 1994 crime bill paved the way for Black Americans' mass imprisonment. Biden says his support was a 'miss'

In 1994, Delaware's Senator Joe Biden stood proudly behind Bill Clinton, signing a reform bill into legislation that touched virtually every part of the U.S. criminal justice system.

Joe Biden at Thursday’s town hall
Joe Biden at Thursday’s town hall

More than 25 years later, in the wake of nationwide demonstrations about racial inequality in law enforcement, the Democratic presidential candidate is once again wrestling with the ramifications of laws he helped author and which experts argue opened the way to an age of mass imprisonment crippling African American communities.

At a town hall in Philadelphia on Thursday night, a constituent asked Biden about the 1994 bill 's legacy, which she claimed contained "prejudice against minorities," and what his view of the law was now.

Biden tried to justify the bill as a result of a new era, while claiming that its features were misrepresented.

Pressed by moderator George Stephanopoulos to say if his bill help was incorrect, Biden replied: "Yeah, it was.

"But here's the error," he said. "The fault came from what the states did locally."

In an eight-minute response, Biden said the bill passed with the help of the country's Congressional Black Caucus and Black mayors. He noted it had the historic Violence Against Women Act and an assault gun ban.

Conditions is different today, he added, as activists urge policing and prison reform revision in reaction to Black Americans police shootings.

"It's improved radically," Biden said.

Biden has vowed to decriminalize marijuana, a measure shy of calls for federal cannabis legalization. He has said that if successful, he would expunge the records of those formerly convicted for pot possession and to divert people with misdemeanor cannabis charges into rehab rather than prison.

Asked if he really thought, as he had in 1994, that more street police officers meant less violence, Biden said he had, but only "if they're actually active with city police."

Turning to Black Lives Matter's demands to re-imagine or "defund" police forces, he reiterated his resistance.

On Friday, Donald Trump, who claims a criminal justice reform bill as one of his finest achievements, seized the issue, alleging that Biden "freely used SUPER PREDATOR!!! "As he supported passing the 1994 Crime Bill.

That's wrong. In 1993, Biden warned of "predators on our highways." But there's no evidence of him using the word "super predator," frequently invoked by Trump in 2016, criticizing Hillary Clinton for using the word 20 years earlier, a decision she claimed she regretted.

Bill Clinton lamented the crime bill, admitting in 2015 that it played a major part in widespread imprisonment and sending even juvenile offenders to jail "for too long."

Biden's refusal to support widespread police reform angered some activists. Polling reveals Biden attracts vast support from Black voters who helped resurrect his primary campaign, but he has failed to excite young and progressive African Americans.

In Thursday night's town hall, a Pennsylvanian student responded to Biden's comment this year that if African Americans "have a problem finding out whether you're with me or Trump, you're not black." Cedric Humphrey asked the former vice-president what he should suggest to reassure young Black men like himself "who see voting for you as greater interference in a mechanism that constantly struggles to defend them."

"First of all," Biden said, "if young Black women and men vote, you will decide election result. No joke.

"The next thing is: can I win your vote, can I? Biden clarified his goal as president to change the criminal justice system and reduce the disparity in ethnic income.

"That's what first interested me in politics, something called redlining," Biden said.

"We can do so much, we can do so much to change situations to give people a real chance." Stephanopoulos asked Humphrey to answer his question.

"I presume," he said.

Sensing he hadn't won Humphrey 's vote yet, Biden invited him to stay after the event was over so they could talk more.