As a trained defense attorney who once represented clients for violent crimes, Clinton has been long aware of how the criminal justice system works in theory versus reality. That she continues to defend the death penalty given everything we know about it now does not so much betray ignorance as indifference — or else just plain unwillingness to expend political capital on this issue, at least until the moment is right.
This, of course, is at odds with her grand promise to end the era of mass incarceration. In a CNN op-ed the day after he stood to ask his question in Columbus, [Ohio death row exoneree] Ricky Jackson pointed out this contradiction. “The fact that Clinton continues to hang on to this antiquated relic confuses me,” he wrote. “She touts ‘criminal justice reform’ — and much reform is needed — but she misses one of the lowest hanging pieces of fruit.”
Perhaps it is true that Clinton will “breathe a sigh of relief” if and when the death penalty finally ends. But that statement alone speaks volumes about her leadership — and the kinds of reforms she will be willing to deliver in the end. A vow to feel relieved when others finally win the fight against capital punishment is not exactly a profile in courage. Clinton knows full well that the death penalty — as it actually exists — is wrong. She’s just not going to waste any power doing anything about it.