By Sarah Craft, Equal Justice USA
It’s always nice to know we’re not alone in the fight for justice. Just like WCADP, state death penalty abolition organizations around the country are hard at work. And with every success, we all get closer to victory.
In late April, Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill that abolished the death penalty in Connecticut. In a statement, Malloy reminded us that debates about the death penalty are inherently difficult, because just having the debate means a horrible crime has occurred. He reiterated, though, that the death penalty does nothing to increase public safety, that it diverts resources from real crime-fighting tools and puts the focus on the offender, rather than the victim.
The Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty (CNADP) was preparing for this moment for over a decade, waiting for the right moment to seize victory. CNADP built an amazing network of allies from diverse communities around the state, including those who have lost a loved one to murder, and left no stone unturned in activating that network for the legislative push this year.
In California, death penalty repeal advocates are busy with the SAFE Campaign – Savings, Accountability, Full Enforcement. SAFE collected almost 800,000 signatures to get a measure on the statewide ballot that would abolish the death penalty and use the cost savings to help law enforcement address cold cases of rape and homicide. In November, California voters will have the opportunity to get rid of the death penalty and change the sentences of the over 700 inmates sitting on California’s death row to life without parole.
North Carolina advocates from several anti-death penalty organizations celebrated earlier this year when a judge overturned the death sentence of an inmate based on the 2009-enacted Racial Justice Act (RJA). The RJA allows death row inmates to challenge their death sentences if they can prove that race was a factor in their sentencing. This was the first challenge by a death row inmate using RJA, and it will likely not be the last.
Late 2011 brought great news for our neighbor to the south, when Oregon Governor Kitzhauber instituted a moratorium on executions. As with California, Oregon voters must decide to abolish the death penalty, and advocates from Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (OADP) are using the opportunity to educate and activate citizens and build support for full repeal.
Even the conservative state of Montana is on the verge of abolition. The Montana Abolition Coalition has led a groundbreaking campaign that has passed an abolition bill through Republican-controlled chambers in both 2009 and 2011. Because of the amazing outreach work done by the Coalition, even conservative Republicans and Tea Party legislators are standing up in support of abolition. The grassroots wave of support for abolition floored even the most vehement opponents. Over 10,000 constituent communications went into the Capitol (unprecedented in this state with a population of less than 1 million), more than 220 clergy and religious leaders signed on to a letter supporting abolition, and over 50 family members of homicide victims publicly supported abolition.
And that’s not all! Abolitionists from Ohio to Texas, Virginia to Nevada, and right here in Washington are building support and momentum. As states continue to reevaluate the death penalty, more and more people are realizing it cannot be fixed, and it needs to go.