Friday, December 16, 2011

Justice and Victory

This week the nation saw unprecedented victories not just for the death penalty abolition movement but also for human rights and justice in the United States.

In Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer stood up against the death penalty calling it a "death lottery," stating to the House Criminal Justice Committee that the death penalty
"makes no sense when you can have life with out the possibility of parole. I don’t see what society gains."
This public statement adds much needed support to Ohio's House Bill 160 that would abolish the death penalty in the state if passed.

In North Carolina, governor Beverly Perdue vetoed Senate Bill 9 that would repeal the state's Racial Justice Act, which was put in place for prisoners sentenced to death. If a judge determines that race was a significant factor in a death penalty trial, the sentence must be reduced to life without parole. Governor Perdue said in a statement,
"it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina."
While the governor is a supporter of the death penalty, her veto of the bill represents a profound move towards greater social justice and equality in the country.

Here in PA, great strides towards abolition are being made as Senate Resolution 6 passed this past Wednesday, December 14. The resolution, which can be read in full here, establishes a bipartisan task force and advisory committee that will conduct a study of the death penalty in Pennsylvania in collaboration with the Justice Center for Research at Penn State, the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness, and the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission.

We have gone without the death penalty in Pennsylvania before. From 1972 to 1978, Pennsylvania was without capital punishment after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Furman v. Georgia. Capital punishment was reinstated in 1978 and since that time Pennsylvanian has sentenced more than 350 people to death yet has executed only three.

This year, numerous studies have come out examining the issues surrounding Pennsylvania's capital punishment and criminal justice system, including one by the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions which can be found here or read PADP's analysis of it here, and examined the issues surrounding eye-witness identification, among other things. Another study released by the Philadelphia Inquirer found issues with Pennsylvania's defense lawyers and unfair trials.

Even more exciting for death penalty abolitionists everywhere is the Death Penalty Information Center's Year End Report, which was released this Thursday, December 15th. The report cited that death sentences have dropped significantly in recent years and noted a 75% drop since 1996. Richard Dieter, DPIC's Executive Director and author of the report said,
"Executions, death sentences, public support, the number of states with the death penalty all dropped from previous years. Whether it’s concerns about unfairness, executing the innocent, the high costs of the death penalty, or the general feeling that the government just can’t get it right, Americans moved further away from capital punishment in 2011.”
Each of these new developments represent a growing trend across the country in support of the abolition of capital punishment and a move towards greater justice, equality, and human rights for the nation. They symbolize the forward progression that the United States can accomplish if ordinary citizens are not silent and do not allow themselves to be complicit in the crimes of the government. Great figures like Martina Davis Correia, who passed away December 2, motivate and inspire us to act and to voice our dissent in the state sanctioned murder that is capital punishment. We must work in Martina's memory, and in honor of other great abolitionists like her, to end capital punishment in this country and not let these new opportunities and new cries of support for abolition go unnoticed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

PA Senate passes SR 6!

Andrew Hoover, Legislative Director of the ACLU reported today that PA bill SR 6 passed with no debate. SR 6 is a resolution to establish a committee to conduct a study into capital punishment in Pennsylvania and report their recommendations derived from the data.

Hoover noted that because it is a resolution it does not need to pass the House.

Read the resolution here.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice stands with Abolition Movement

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer called the state's death penalty a "death lottery" this morning, stating to the House Criminal Justice Committee that the death penalty "makes no sense when you can have life with out the possibility of parole. I don’t see what society gains."

Ohio's legislative panel is currently considering House Bill 160 that would abolish the death penalty in the state. Pfeifer has been working to abolish the death penalty for the past few years in Ohio, despite being one of three state senators that initially brought the state's death penalty law back in 1981.

Follow along here: @OhStopExecution

NC Governor vetoes SB to repeal Racial Justice Act

A quick word of praise for North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue who vetoed a bill (SB 9) that would repeal the 2009 Racial Justice Act. The Racial Justice Act was put in place for prisoners sentenced to death. If a judge determines race was a significant factor used in a death penalty trial the sentence must be reduced to life without parole.

The governor said in a statement, "it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina."

North Carolina and Kentucky are the only states with laws like the Racial Justice Act.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Help fund this project!

Please, help support this project!
The film is titled, "Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man," about Kirk Bloodsworth, the first death row inmate to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
You can donate through Kickstart to help to get this much needed film created and help to put a human face on this important issue! Let's End This Thing!

Friday, December 2, 2011

In Memoriam: Martina Davis Correia

Today we mourn the passing of Martina Davis Correia, sister of Troy Anthony Davis and tireless fighter of the death penalty. Martina died this Thursday at the age of 44 after a long fight with breast cancer and a 22 year battle to free her brother Troy from death row until his execution by lethal injection this past September.

Martina was unflagging in her efforts to clear her brother Troy's name and resolute in her commitment to end the unjust capital punishment system in the U.S. Curt Goering, chief operating officer of Amnesty International USA, said of Martina,
“Our hearts are breaking over the loss of this extraordinary woman. She fought to save her brother’s life with courage, strength and determination, every step of the way. She was a powerful example of how one person can make a difference as she led the fight for justice for Troy Davis, even as she endured her own decade-long battle with cancer.

"She was a tenacious fighter, a graceful inspiration to activists everywhere, and a true hero of the movement for human rights. At this sorrowful time, we at Amnesty International offer our profound sympathy to her family.”

Martina gave us much to work for. After the passing of her brother on September 21, 2011, Martina pledged to continue the fight against capital punishment and refused to see his death as a failure. She said,

"I want people to know that we didn't fail. As long as we keep hammering away at this thing, as long as we refuse to give up, we haven't failed. We'll be doing what Troy would have wanted us to do."
Laura Moye, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign coordinator for Amnesty International USA was with Martina during her last moments in the hospital. In a statement she made to Atlanta Progressive News, Moye said of Martina,
“She was a true champion and hero for human rights in the U.S. and beyond. She changed all of us and she changed this world. We know her spirit is very strong and is going to continue to be a force for changing this world for the better."

We absolutely cannot let the passing of Troy and now, the passing of Martina, to be in vain. We will mourn them both and we will remember the hardships of their family over these past few months and years. We will remember and we will be thankful for their commitment to ending this unjust system of state-sanctioned murder. We will do these things and we will also pick up the torch that both Troy and Martina carried and we will work just as tirelessly as they did to end capital punishment. We must make Martina proud and honor her name by continuing the work that she felt so passionately about.

Photo: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty/Wikimedia

Article also published at The Progressive Playbook.