Nothing I have written in some time has aroused so much passionate and often informed comment than my last column on Judith Clark. I have, in addition, received a great deal of private e-mails from people who preferred not to post comments online. One prominent legal expert replied that his head agrees with me but his heart sympathizes with those who favor harsh punishment. This lawyer also, like David Horowitz, does not believe her repentance. Another former public official replied that he believes all those convicted of killing police officers — including someone like Clark who was guilty of felony murder — “should suffer the death penalty.” That is a response even more harsh than any of those who commented on my post made.
So the thoughts and comments of respondents and critics have caused me to re-examine the issue again. I began by re-reading Tom Robbins’ article, and then trying to frame the different arguments and separate them. Here are my latest thoughts.
First, Robbins’ article is, as David Horowitz suggests, part of the New York Times’ long effort to paint favorable portraits of ex-60s radicals, people of the same generation as many of their own writers and editors. Robbins is a freelance writer now at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, and a former reporter at The Village Voice. He writes that “he wanted nothing to do with her after the crime,” and had no sympathy for her, regarding her as someone on “the left’s outer reaches.” After talking with her, Robbins is convinced that her repentance is true, not a mere ploy to finally get out of prison.
There is some evidence for this, aside from his impressions. He tells the story of how when Judith Clark praised black revolutionaries, her father told her she should honor instead true democratic radicals like the Pullman Porter’s union chief, A. Philip Randolph. Robbins got that story from Judith herself, since her father was dead. That suggests in essence that she was saying in effect that her father was right, and she should have listened to his counsel decades ago.
Secondly, unlike the others of her now free comrades, she accepts responsibility for her actions, and that driving the get-away car does not exonerate her from being guilty of murder of the two police officers. The grandparents raised her abandoned daughter; she did not give her over to Ayers and Dohrn, as Kathy Boudin gave her child to be raised by her two Weather Underground comrades. She accepts that whatever her fate, she did it to herself — not the state, the authorities, or her fellow terrorists. Moreover, while Susan Rosenberg and the others called themselves “political prisoners,” a term implying innocence of any real crime — Clark accepts her guilt and does not use any such political terminology to describe her plight. To me, that says her perspective is quite different than the others in her old movement.
Finally, Robbins is more than unfair to Clark’s father, who should be the hero of the article, rather than somewhat of a villain. He describes him as someone who “became vehemently anti-communist, raging at former friends,” as if that is somehow a bad thing. He does not note that Clark still was on the Left, and was a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, not any kind of a conservative or right-winger. They were right to have no “patience for their daughter’s rabid politics,” and Robbins should have made that much clearer.