Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that she does not support abolishing the death penalty, calling instead for a review of the practice and for it to be used in fewer cases.
“We have a lot of evidence now that the death penalty has been too frequently applied, and too often in a discriminatory way, so I think we have to take a hard look at it,” she said in response to a voter question in New Hampshire.
“I do not favor abolishing it, however, because I do think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve the consideration of the death penalty, but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare, as opposed to what we’ve seen in most states,” she continued.
The comments — Clinton’s first on the issue since launching her campaign — put her in contrast to her Democratic opponents, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Sanders has said he is “against capital punishment in general” and O’Malley has also come out against the policy.
“The death penalty is racially-biased, ineffective deterrent to crime, and we must abolish it,” O”Malley, who signed legislation abolishing the practice in Maryland, said in a statement Wednesday. He added that “as president, I would work to build consensus to end it nationally.”
Clinton has a complicated past when it comes to her outlook on criminal justice reform and the death penalty. As a young lawyer in 1976, she helped to save a mentally handicapped black man from execution. But as First Lady, she echoed her husband’s support for tough on crime policies and tough sentencing. During Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, she traveled with him back to Little Rock, Arkansas so that he could personally preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally ill black man.
But her support for capital punishment has waned as public support has also declined. When she ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000, she said that the death penalty had her “unenthusiastic support.”
On Wednesday, she told the forum audience that the United States needs to be “smarter and more careful” about how the death penalty is applied.
People of color have accounted for a disproportionate 43 percent of total executions since 1976 and make up 55 percent of people awaiting execution, according to the ACLU. About one half of all murders involve white victims, but 80 percent of capital cases involve white victims.