At this time of year, I try to pause in the midst of the festivities, and the time spent with family and friends to reflect on the past year and look ahead. What were my goals from the past year? What opportunities and challenges lie ahead for our organization and our movement? So it is in that spirit that I share my reflections of this past year and my hopes—my dream and vision—for 2015.
2014 was extraordinary. It was a year demonstrating the steady progress that we are making and a demoralizing reminder of the depths of our challenge.
The numbers don’t lie. In 2014, as in previous years, we continued to see a decline in executions. There were 35 –the fewest since 1974. There were only 72 new death sentences in 2014, the lowest number in the life of the modern death penalty. Only 7 states took part in executions (Texas, Missouri, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio, and Arizona)—the fewest number of states in 25 years. And a chilling reminder of what is at stake: 7 former death row prisoners were exonerated.
But we can’t just look at the numbers. Even with this relatively good news, we find our challenges.
Among the 35 people executed were people who were intellectually disabled; a man whose lawyer was drunk during his trial; African American men who were sentenced to death by all-white juries; and the list goes on. Executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona became spectacles of horror as prisoners called out in pain and lingered in their dying.
Because 6 of the 7 men who were exonerated are African American, we continued to see a disturbing correlation between race and the propensity for mistake.
And this year, many Americans became aware for the first time that we can live in the same space and yet have very different experiences and encounters with police–some even fatal. This reality was a wake-up call for some and a painful reminder for others of us. It has opened wounds and exposed divisions that must be mended if we are to be one nation under law.
So did we achieve our goals for 2014?
As you know from my many emails to you this year, 2014 has been all about building the 90 Million Strong Campaign. We had a vision of the leaders of national organizations standing up and coming together to say, unequivocally, that the death penalty is wrong and must end.
We had a vision of engaging many more people—millions more—in the effort to educate our neighbors, friends and families. We dreamed of more people being willing to make their views known to policymakers so that we can repeal the death penalty in more states and stop executions in others.
Looking back on 2014, I am satisfied that we met that goal. We have partnered with 15 national organizations that together represent the opportunity to mobilize and enlist millions of people in the struggle to end the death penalty.
So what do I want to see in 2015?
I certainly want to see more positive news in numbers: fewer death sentences and executions; more states moving to repeal their death penalty statutes; and more people exonerated from death row. But I also want to see something else–something harder to see than the numbers, but just as important.
I want to see a change—even the slightest—in the hearts and minds of our people. I want to begin to see our people and our nation turn away from the death penalty, because we have begun to understand that we are better than capital punishment.
My dream and vision for 2015 is many, many more people like you sharing their values with their families and friends– many more national organizations and leaders standing up on principle to say that the death penalty is wrong. Browse our 90 Million Strong website, sign up and get others to join in our vision.
Looking toward 2015, we at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are going back to basics. We will be doing the work that we were founded to do: building alliances and forging new partnerships based on the simple fact that the death penalty is wrong.
We will be making the case to those individuals and organizations that have quietly supported our mission to be visible and vocal.
We will also be making the case to individuals and organizations that are not yet standing with us.
As I prepare for 2015, I pledge to be a stronger and bolder voice for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. I pledge to speak our truth to power with greater conviction and clarity than ever before.
I will need your help, your prayers, your good wishes and your good energies. I will share mine with you. We are in this together.
It is our time to lead this nation out of the wilderness of shame and pain that the death penalty embraces.
On behalf of myself, the staff and Board of Directors of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, I want to extend again my gratitude and my warmest wishes to you and your family during this special time of the year.
We, together, have much work ahead, and we are ready. Shine the light!
P.S. We’re at a critical time for the abolition movement, and I’ll be anxious to hear what you’re doing to fight against the desth penalty in 2015. But for now, please be generous with a tax-deductible contribution so we can make 2015 a year of justice and realize this vision.