In September of 1991 a group of 22 people opposed to the death penalty gathered to organize against capital punishment. A 1989 survey conducted by the Center for Survey Research at Virginia Commonwealth University found that while Virginians supported the death penalty, support decreased to a minority when Virginians were given the alternative of life with no possibility of parole for a minimum of 25 years combined with restitution to the victims’ family.
I can’t remember ever not being opposed to the death penalty, which is probably the reason I didn’t bother to explore why I felt that way until well into my adult years.
Over time, I became aware of the arguments for abolition — economic and racial inequities; the irreversibility of the death sentence; numerous documented cases of innocent people who have been executed or almost executed; and the fact that capital punishment does not deter killing, but may actually breed violence in our society.
It is hard to fathom now, but 150 years ago most of the people living in the United States supported or tolerated slavery and opposed women’s suffrage. Only 50 years ago, there were no civil rights laws prohibiting race discrimination in housing, employment or voting. And, ten years ago almost no one could have predicted that we were on the cusp of marriage equality.
I believe that one of the next great advances will be eradication of the death penalty. The Supreme Court may never (again) rule that the death penalty is unconstitutional. And Congress may never have the political will to abolish it at the federal level.
But organizations like VADP are successfully moving state elected officials across the nation to listen to their constituents and pass laws ending capital punishment.
At some point — in the near future, I hope — every state will have banned capital punishment or refuse to carry out executions, effectively eliminating the death penalty in the United States. I joined the VADP board to help make Virginia one of the next, not one of the last, to do that.
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