Mario Cuomo, former Governor of New York and steadfast opponent of the death penalty, died this past Thursday, 1 January 2014, at the age of 82. Known for his eloquence and passion for social justice, Cuomo served three terms as Governor of New York, from 1983 to 1994.
One of the issues he vehemently pursued was the abolition of capital punishment. He spoke out against the death penalty in his campaigns and vetoed bills to reinstate it every year he held office. He consistently highlighted the failure of capital punishment to deter crime, its high financial costs, the history of its use against wrongfully convicted citizens, and its racially discriminatory application.
Cuomo made not only practical but also moral arguments against the death penalty, stating in 1991,
“The death penalty legitimizes the ultimate act of vengeance in the name of the state, violates fundamental human rights, fuels a mistaken belief by some that justice is being served and demeans those who strive to preserve human life and dignity.”
He challenged the government’s right to kill its people, and called for our justice system to move beyond revenge. In a 2011 Daily News blog outlining the need to abolish the death penalty he wrote,
“Capital punishment raises important questions about how, as a society, we view human beings. I believed as governor, and I still believe, that the practice and support for capital punishment is corrosive; that it is bad for a democratic citizenry and that it had to be objected to and so I did then, and I do now and will continue to for as long as it and I exist, because I believe we should be better than what we are in our weakest moments.”
Throughout his life, Cuomo was a forthright and resounding voice against the death penalty, and leaves behind a valuable legacy of fighting for abolition and justice. Though he is no longer with us, we will continue to fight the good fight to realize his dream to end capital punishment in the United States.
NCADP has created the 90 Million Strong Campaign to unite the voices of those who believe the death penalty is wrong. We need to demonstrate that the broad public support to end this practice is already here in America, and 90 million people speaking up can make a difference.