Last week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo commuted Judith Clark’s prison sentence. Clark, a former member of the Weather Underground, has served 35 years in prison for her role as a getaway driver in the failed 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored truck at the Nanuet Mall in Nyack. During the attempted heist, Clark’s accomplices killed a Brink’s guard and two police officers.
A case could be made for Clark’s commutation, but Cuomo hasn’t made it. In fact, in a front-page feature in the New York Times, Cuomo comes across as less serious and more contemptible than Clark herself. Clark at least purports to have gained an understanding of the psychological roots of her far-left ideology. She claims now to be appalled by the violent radical mindset that led her to complicity in murder. But Cuomo doesn’t even pretend to such political self-awareness. Rather, he epitomizes the worst “radical chic” tendencies of the illiberal Left to indulge the extremist politics of Clark and her erstwhile comrades.
There’s some evidence that Clark has rehabilitated herself in prison. She has gained a reputation for good works, including “founding an HIV/AIDS education program, training service dogs in the Puppies Behind Bars program, and serving as a college tutor.” Yet, on one level, her good behavior is irrelevant to the question of whether she deserves clemency. Admirable deeds can be performed even by those who are committed to radical political violence. The only real question is whether she has renounced her commitment to such violence and the extremist ideology that gave rise to it.
The neoconservative Ron Radosh somewhat hesitantly made the case that Clark had indeed had a change of heart a few years ago, when the Times began beating the drum for her release. Another former radical, David Horowitz, vehemently disagreed, arguing that if Clark were truly remorseful she would spill the beans on her old revolutionary comrades, who may have been involved in various unsolved bombings and assassination attempts during the sixties and seventies. Certainly, if the authorities think Clark has any information on unsolved terrorist acts she should not be released until she divulges it.
With her sentence now commuted from 75 years-to-life to 35 years-to-life, Clark will be eligible for parole starting this year. When it considers her application, the Board of Parole should ask Clark to prove that she’s no longer hooked on her terrorist ideology. Cuomo should have done the same while deciding on her commutation application, but there’s not much indication that he did. The Times article describes an extraordinary—and possibly inappropriate—private meeting between Cuomo and Clark at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in September. If the piece is accurate, Clark paid lip service to the destructiveness of her ideology and the clueless liberal governor responded with banal platitudes. In the most incredible passage in the Times article, Cuomo equates Clark’s actions, and her description of the “groupthink and zealotry” that motivated them, with the sacrifices of American and other servicemen in battle:
Ms. Clark . . . knew that the risk of violence was part of the robbery, she said, and as a getaway driver, shared culpability for the bullets fired by others.
“I talked to him about how I understood that the groupthink and zealotry and internalized loyalty had sapped me of my own moral compass,” Ms. Clark said.
This part of the conversation helped the governor recognize some of the forces that propelled the mayhem. “You’re fighting for good versus evil,” Mr. Cuomo said this week. “That’s what sends young men into war with guns to kill other people.”
Sounding more like a fan than a governor, Cuomo says, “When you meet her you get a sense of her soul. Her honesty makes her almost transparent as a personality.” He goes on to question the entire concept of penal justice: “The older I get, the correction system—what are we accomplishing in the first place? Lock a person up for 10 years, and you have accomplished what? You take a bad situation and every time you make it worse.” One wonders: how long, in Cuomo’s view, should someone who participates in a politically motivated triple murder spend behind bars? Ten years? Five? A week?
Perhaps most tellingly, Cuomo depicts himself as a profile in political courage, standing up to an undefined foe he simply calls “them.” “I believe showing mercy and justice and compassion and forgiveness is the right signal,” he says. “You can’t make ‘them’ happy. You live your life by ‘them’ and you’re lost.” Is it possible that by “them,” the governor is referring to the widows and children of the men slain by Clark’s comrades? Unlike Clark, those still-grieving families didn’t get to meet personally with Cuomo before he decided to commute the sentence of a woman who has helped ruin their lives. By “them,” perhaps the governor means the decent, hard-working members of the law enforcement community who risk their lives every day to keep Cuomo and the rest of us safe from crazies, criminals, and terrorists like the Weather Underground.
Clark, if she is truly reformed, may deserve parole after 35 years. Andrew Cuomo deserves only our scorn.
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