Former Vice President Joseph Biden said Monday he made a mistake in supporting tough-on-crime drug legislation in the 1980s and 1990s, citing a bill that created different legal standards for powdered cocaine and street crack cocaine, the New York Times reports. “It was a big mistake that was made,” Biden said of the measure, which was criticized as disproportionately affecting blacks. “We were told by the experts that “crack you never go back,” that the two were somehow fundamentally different. It’s not. But it’s trapped an entire generation.” Biden, who is deciding whether to run for the presidency, is assessing what hurdles he faces in an increasingly progressive party.
The former vice president appeared with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Washington, D.C. While both men have been criticized for their mixed record on issues of racial equality and criminal justice, the two took different approaches to explaining their record. Biden, who helped pass a 1994 crime bill that is cited as having led to an era of mass incarceration, stunned the audience when he flatly admitted that he “may not have always gotten things right” in regards to criminal justice. Bloomberg avoided a mention of his controversial “stop and frisk” tactic, which gave police officers sweeping powers to detain those suspected of committing crimes, particularly in neighborhoods that had predominately nonwhite residents. Civil rights attorneys applauded Biden’s admission that his past actions on criminal justice were flawed. Biden’s comments were“appropriate and necessary. It was refreshing,” said Kristen Clarke of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.