On June 24th Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking appeared on the radio program Culture Shocks with Barry Lynn. The Rev. Barry Lynn is an ordained minister, constitutional lawyer, noted activist, and longstanding civil libertarian.
“When the public gets the facts and knows the alternatives, they are happy to have the death penalty become a thing of the past,” explained Rust-Tierney. In their lengthy interview, Rust-Tierney and Lynn discuss the impact of death penalty repeal in Maryland. Rust-Tierney observed that there is “no constituency for the death penalty” and the politics are changing. People are doing the right thing as they see the death penalty unraveling and they are stepping away from it.
They go on to discussed how the large number of exonerations has steadily eroded public support for the death penalty as well as the shifting political positions based on excessive costs and inequities. Rust-Tierney emphasized the importance of the National Coalition’s work to pull together people from many different political perspectives on this issue.
As more states move away from the death penalty, we are beginning to see how extreme the outlier states like Florida are. Florida Governor Scott recently signed a bill into law that would speed up executions—a move far outside of the mainstream of American politics on this issue.
The interview ended with a discussion about the repeal of the Racial Justice Act in North Carolina despite extensive, well-documented evidence of racial bias in death sentencing in multitudes of cases. “The repeal of the Racial Justice Act is the beginning of the end of the death penalty in North Carolina,” stated Rust-Tierney, “The only option left is a long term effort to end [the death penalty].”
During the second half of the show, Barry Lynn interviews, Sr. Helen Prejean, who echoes Rust-Tierney’s pronouncement that the death penalty is a crude form of cultural murder. Sr. Prejean reminds us, “there is nothing natural about taking a person, rendering him defenseless, and taking him out to kill him.” It has been twenty years since the publication of her book Dead Man Walking that shared with the world her first-hand experience serving as a spiritual advisor to several death row inmates in Louisiana’s Angola prison, as well as getting to know the family members of murder victims.
Sr. Helen implores us to think about why we insist on using the death penalty in the United States. “We cannot make our actions as a society dependent on the worst thing that an individual can do. We must look at who we are as a people and why do we have to do this?”
Readers can listen to the show or download it at: