From "From Wallace To Trump, The Evolution of 'Law And Order,'" by Marquette polisci prof Julia Azari at FiveThirtyEight.
That reminds me: At Sunday's Democratic candidates town hall, Hillary Clinton got a question from a black man named Ricky Jackson, who'd spent 39 years in prison, some of it on death row (and won freedom through the work of the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati).
Ricky Jackson did not bring up the horrible Ricky Ray Rector case and the racial politics of 1996. I don't know who screened or wrote his question for him, but it was a tame invitation to justify the death penalty in light of the cases of innocence we've seen. The only racial element to Jackson's question was the visual, Jackson himself. And Hillary had a nice opportunity to express empathy for him and balance that with a demand for excellent judicial process and some targeted outrage over real crime (without using the word "superpredators").
What she did was take a hard shot at state courts: "[T'he states have proven themselves incapable of carrying out fair trials that give any defendant all of the rights a defendant should have, all of the support that the defendant's lawyer should have."
State courts are incapable of giving any defendant a fair trial? Not only are all state court trials unfair, it's impossible for state courts to give a fair trial! That's a ridiculous statement. Presumably, she'll walk it back if confronted, but clearly, she had no compunction about stirring up anxiety that the courts that hear the vast majority of criminal trials are hopelessly unfair. That doesn't relate only to the death penalty, but to everyone who's convicted, now and in the future, in state courts.
But federal courts — federal courts are different. She doesn't discourse on the reason. (I'm familiar with it. It's a topic I teach. But it doesn't go so far as to portray the state courts as always and forever unfair.) She supports the death penalty — though she's still "struggling" with it — for "terrorist activities" — but maybe that's a "distinction that is hard to support." Note the weak hedging, even after the intemperate trashing of state courts.
Here's a Salon article from last July, "Bill Clinton’s gutsy apologies: Now he owes one to Ricky Ray Rector," quoting Margaret Kimberley at The Black Commentator:
[R]icky Ray Rector became world famous upon his execution in 1992. Then Governor Bill Clinton left the campaign trail in January of that year to sign the warrant for Rector’s execution. Rector’s mental capacity was such that when taken from his cell as a “dead man walking” he told a guard to save his pie. He thought he would return to finish his dessert.AND: By the way, what's the historical origin — in American politics — of the stock argument that a candidate is "soft on crime"? Was it George Wallace in 1968?
I try to remember this story when I am told that all Black people love Bill Clinton or that he should be considered the first Black president. Clinton wasn’t Black when Rector needed him. He was just another politician who didn’t want to be labeled soft on crime.