After year of botched executions, exonerations, evidence of racial bias in justice system, “90 Million Strong” campaign launches to activate Americans who oppose capital punishment
Washington, DC— With the country’s final executions of 2014 scheduled to take place in Missouri, Texas and Georgia this week, a new coalition launched today to mobilize the millions of Americans who support ending capital punishment. The new campaign caps a year of botched executions and exonerations of Death Row inmates, shining the spotlight on a system with inherent flaws and perpetual unfairness. Sojourners, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, the NAACP, Amnesty International USA, Alliance for Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, among others, have joined the diverse coalition to finally end the practice.
At a press event at the National Press Club, Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), whose organization is convening the coalition, said, “Today, we are launching a unique campaign that will mobilize groups and individuals across the political, religious, and ideological spectrum who share the common goal of rising up and ending the death penalty. The death penalty in America is deeply flawed, and we will use our collective power to change a system that remains unjust, unfair, and broken beyond repair.”
According to a Gallup poll released in October, at 33 percent, opposition to the death penalty is near its highest number since the Supreme Court made the practice legal in 1976. The “90 Million Strong” campaign will provide death penalty opponents from all walks of life with opportunities to take actions opposing the death penalty, educate their social networks about its many problems, stay updated on events happening in their own communities to advance the cause, and find spiritual connection.
Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, noted, “Our criminal justice system sadly reflects racial biases in our society. That is becoming clearer and clearer to Americans—of all colors. The imposition and execution of the death sentence is a blatant example of this troubling truth. But the structural issues run even deeper into issues of economics, class, and geography. And newspaper headlines in recent years have horrifically revealed that innocent people have sat on death row, with only God knowing the actual number of innocent people who have died at the hands of the state. The status quo is unacceptable and people of faith are joining together – across theological and political boundaries – in opposing the death penalty because it violates the most sacred of our commitments to the life God has created.”
Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, said, “We are proud as a Reform Movement to join with our colleagues in the faith, women’s, civil rights, human rights and other communities representing the ever diversifying group of Americans who oppose the ongoing use of capital punishment. We are united in the knowledge that in our continued practice of death penalty, we diminish the value of human life and the ideals of our nation.”
“On behalf of the more than 100 organizations that make up Alliance for Justice and their millions of members, we are proud to lend our voices to the effort to end the death penalty,” said Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron. “There can be no clearer reminder of the importance of who sits on our courts than the fact these judges and justices are called upon to make life and death decisions. For decades the Supreme Court has tried to reconcile state-sanctioned killing with the Constitution of the United States. That cannot be done. We look forward to the day when we have a Supreme Court that will rule, once and for all, that the death penalty is unconstitutional.”
”The practice of government-sponsored execution has no place in any civilized criminal justice system. No one knows better than defense lawyers that the criminal justice system is fallible. It is rife with human error at every stage, and it perpetuates racial and ethnic disparity. We simply cannot allow such a system to engage in the taking of human life,” agreed Norman L. Reimer, Executive Director, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
In 2011, Illinois ended its death penalty after activists, journalists, and state legislators joined forces to expose their state’s wrongful convictions, high rates of prosecutorial misconduct, and high costs to taxpayers. “The ’90 Million Strong’ coalition is exactly the type of alliance we mobilized to end the death penalty in Illinois, and I’m excited and hopeful about where this new campaign will take our country,” said Former Illinois State Representative Karen Yarborough, a co-chair of the campaign and author of the legislation that ended capital punishment in her state. “I’m here to offer guidance and a message that death penalty abolition is possible when diverse groups of people unite for what’s right.”
Since 1976, 149 death row inmates have been exonerated due to wrongful convictions. In November, two Ohio men, sentenced to death for a murder they didn’t commit, were finally released from prison after 39 years behind bars, The three men were 17, 18 and 20 years old when they were wrongfully convicted.
“It is shameful that the United States holds itself out as a leader in human rights while still carrying out the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice of sentencing prisoners to death, said Steven Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. “Over a third of states within the U.S. have done away with the death penalty. It is time for the rest of the country to follow suit.”
“The last 30 years have demonstrated conclusively that no state can implement a death penalty regime that does not reflect racial bias, place innocent people on death row, and inflict cruel and unusual punishment and enormous financial costs,” Morton Halperin, a longtime abolition activist, noted. “It is long past time for the United States to join the rest of the world’s democracies in abolishing this barbaric procedure.”
More about the 90 Million Strong campaign can be found online at www.90millionstrong.org.
Coverage of the #90mStrong Tuesday, 9 December 2014 Press Conference:
- Washington Post:: Can the death penalty be abolished?
- Christian Post: Christian Groups Join New Coalition to Mobilize 90 Million Americans Against the Death Penalty