Sunday, 2 November 2008
Obama and crime
from the NYT:
Mr. Obama has emphasized civil liberties, sensitivity to racial inequality and tough penalties for the most violent felons. He was a state lawmaker when the Illinois police and prosecutors were under siege. In 2003, doubt was cast on the convictions of several Illinois death-row inmates leading to a death-penalty moratorium that is still in effect.
Some critics say Mr. Obama’s role in the death-penalty moratorium has been exaggerated. Christine Radogno, a Republican state senator, said that Mr. Obama took credit for work accomplished by Gov. George Ryan, a Republican who imposed the moratorium, pardoned a number of death-row inmates, and established a commission to study capital punishment.
“To claim that Barack was the impetus for those reforms is an overstatement,” Ms. Radogno said.
Recent disclosures have revealed that Chicago police officers had tortured suspects into giving false confessions.
A member of the State Senate’s judiciary committee, Mr. Obama on several occasions was helpful in placating law enforcement officials while also helping pass criminal justice legislation opposed by many of them, according to Illinois police officers and prosecutors.
As a state lawmaker, Mr. Obama supported changes to the death penalty, including a bill that let judges reject a death sentence for someone convicted on the sole basis of an informant’s testimony.
He also opposed a measure that would have applied the death penalty for gang-related murders because he feared that the law would be applied unevenly.
“He had to bridge a very diverse constituency which included Hyde Park and some very tough areas on the South Side,” said Richard Devine, the Cook County state’s attorney, who at first opposed and then supported Mr. Obama’s videotaped interrogations measure.
“He had to keep the liberals happy, but also protect people in high-crime areas,” Mr. Devine said.
Among the most hotly contested measures was one that required police officers to electronically record homicide interrogations, a requirement intended to reduce the number of forced or false confessions.
Illinois was the first state to pass legislation requiring such a widescale electronic recording, and it was initially resisted by the police and prosecutors.
Mr. Obama shuttled between both sides at the Statehouse in Springfield, eventually writing several compromises into the bill that helped gain its passage. They included limiting the mandatory recordings to interviews conducted at police stations, and providing money for smaller police and sheriff’s departments to buy recording equipment.