Bill Clinton angrily told Black Lives Matter protesters that they "are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter", prompting criticism from black voters whose support Hillary Clinton is counting on in her quest for the presidency. The former president spent more than 10 minutes on 7 April facing down the protesters at a campaign rally in Philadelphia for his wife over the criticisms that a 1994 crime bill he approved while president led to a surge in the imprisonment of black people.

In Philadelphia, several protesters heckled the former president mid-speech and held signs, including one that read "Clinton Crime Bill Destroyed Our Communities," and another that read "Black Youth are not Super-predators". Video footage of Hillary Clinton defending the bill in 1994 by calling young people in gangs "super-predators" who need to "be brought to heel" have been widely circulated during the campaign by activists in the Black Lives Matter protest movement. Bill Clinton defended her 1994 remarks, which protesters say were racially insensitive.

"I don't know how you would characterise the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African-American children," he said, shaking his finger at a heckler as Clinton supporters cheered. "Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She [Hillary Clinton] didn't. You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter," he told a protester. "Tell the truth."

Hillary Clinton, who also has faced protesters upset by her remarks, has said she regrets using the term. Bill Clinton said last year that he regrets signing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act into law because it contributed to the country's high incarceration rate of black people for non-violent crimes. But during his confrontation with protesters, he defended what he said was a legacy of low crime that resulted from the legislation.

"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.

"She [points to protester] doesn't want to hear any of that. You know what else she doesn't want to hear? Because of that bill we had a 25-year low in crime, a 33-year low in the murder rate, and listen to this – because of that and the background check law we had a 46-year low in the deaths of people by gun violence. And who do you think those lives were that mattered? Whose lives were saved that mattered?" he said.

His remarks prompted criticism online as some saw him criticising the Black Lives Matter movement, which was the product of anger over a string of encounters around the country in which police officers killed unarmed black people. After the confrontation several protesters were escorted away from the stage by security personnel.