Day 8: Learn, listen and act to end capital punishment

We are the one G7 country that imposes the death penalty. The only countries with more executions are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.

DAY 8 ACTION: A Trifecta! Learn, listen, and act to abolish the death penalty.

“The electric chair at Sing-Sing”, Library of Congress. New York was the first state to adopt use of the electric chair to execute people.

We are leaving the issue of immigration for the moment (we will return to it). Today, thousands of people gather in Washington, D.C. to take part in the March for Life. This annual march marks the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that granted women the right to an abortion, Roe v. Wade.

Keeping the government out of women’s reproductive health decisions is fundamental, and we will focus on this issue later in the 100 Days. But today, we’re taking up another life issue not often talked about in the context of abortion rights: capital punishment.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the use of capital punishment because it was so often applied in a racially discriminatory way. Four years later, the Supreme Court lifted the moratorium. Since then, the federal government has used the death penalty (by lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, firing squad, and hanging) for “capital” crimes, including aggravated murder, crimes against the state, and terrorism. In addition, 31 states allow the death penalty. Since 1976, over 1400 people in America have been executed.

** If you have 6 minutes today, listen to this short talk about racism and the death penalty. If you have 40 minutes today, listen to this podcast about the lengths American states go to, to find execution drugs on the world market. More time? Hear these harrowing stories of innocent people on death row or serving life sentences without parole. **

All criminal offenders are protected by the 8th amendment of the U.S. Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment, even those who commit the most heinous of crimes. Perhaps to some, the death penalty did not seem “unusual” when our country began. But today, the United States is increasingly isolated in the practice of executing its citizens. All of Europe (except for Russia and Belarus) has abolished the practice, as have 19 countries in Africa, 16 in the Americas, and 21 in Asia.

The Roman Catholic Pope Francis has clearly stated that “nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person… It is an offence [sic] to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice.” In modern society, capital punishment really may be “cruel and unusual”. Moreover, the racial bias in death penalty sentencing likely offends other parts of our Constitution, such as the Equal Protection Clause.

We are all human beings deserving of fair treatment and dignity. The state should see criminal defendants as humans, and not lightly assume the act of destroying a life.  

Today’s actions: Read and listen to the links above. Then, sign a petition to abolish the death penalty. And consider joining or supporting these groups: the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; the Innocence Project; the Equal Justice Initiative; or the work of Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ to end the death penalty. (Sister Prejean wrote the book Dead Man Walking.)


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