The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is excited to be partnering with reporter Bailey Elise McBride. In a series of compelling tweets, Bailey broke the news about Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett last year, and helped to draw national and international attention to the serious problems with the death penalty in the United States. Bailey is kicking of our profiles of women in the abolition movement for Women's History Month by sharing her story of how she came to be against the death penalty and decided to partner with us.
In light of Kelly Gissendaner’s ongoing struggle for clemency and March’s celebration of Women’s History Month, I’m excited to share my own story and the stories of others who work tirelessly to bring an end to the death penalty over the next few weeks.
I will be joining the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) team as a regular columnist/blogger on news about the death penalty and the ongoing battle in this country to abolish it.
We thought it would be a good idea for me to introduce myself before I just started showing up as a contributor, reporting the news and talking about the stories of others—the incarcerated, law makers, and everyone in between. What better way than to start with my own story, and why this is such an important issue to me?
I’ve never believed the death penalty was an appropriate punishment or deterrent for anything, but for a long time I didn’t really know why I felt that way. I stopped eating meat when I was in high school when I found out how the animals were killed, and I guess I chalked my opposition to the death penalty to the same reason I didn’t want to eat meat: if I wasn’t OK with killing animals, how could be OK with letting the state kill people?
This is a huge oversimplification, and an injustice to the complexity of the issue, but I was in middle school at the time, so I wasn’t exactly doing a lot of critical thinking on issues of mortality or bureaucracy.
As I went to high school and then college, joined the debate team and started my career as a journalist, the issue of abolishing the death penalty became important to me. I converted to Catholicism in that time, and one of the major reasons was the church’s firm belief in social justice and opposition to the death penalty.
What really cemented my beliefs, though, and made me know this was something I would dedicate a lot of my time and writing to, was a panel discussion at the end of my time in college between His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, Vincent Harding, a long-time civil rights leader, and Sister Helen Prejean, a nun and the author of the New York Times best-selling book “Dead Man Walking.”
Sister Helen’s story, which, if you haven’t read or seen the movie, is definitely worth checking out, chronicles the 1993 execution of Patrick Sonnier and Robert Willie. The film of the same name stars Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, who won an Academy Award for her performance. Prejean has worked since 1981 to bring attention to the poor and the powerless, including writing another book, “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions,” making many national and international appearances, and, in 2000, presenting more than 2.5 million signatures to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.
Hearing Sister Helen speak about her experiences as a witness to executions and a fighter for abolition of the death penalty moved me, and I knew it was something I would become involved in.
Last February, I took a job with the Associated Press bureau in Oklahoma City, and quickly began covering the clemency hearings and lawsuit against the state of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner. As I got to know more about the cases, the victim’s families, and the shroud of secrecy the state felt entitled to, my passion for the issue grew, even if my public opinion at the time could not.
This all came to a head at the April 30 botched execution of Clayton Lockett, which I tweeted about as a media witness was recounting the man’s excruciating last minutes, how the curtain had been drawn while he was still dying, and, at the time, how the execution had not been successful (about 20 minutes later Mr. Lockett died of a heart attack).
My tweets were retweeted hundreds of times, and news stations across the world picked up on the story. I hate that it took one man suffering so much to bring more critical international attention to the death penalty in this country, but I am thankful that so many cases and bills that promote transparency and a reinstatement of a moratorium of the death penalty are being taken more seriously.
I look forward to joining the NCADP team and blogging about these issues, because it wasn’t just about Mr. Lockett for me—it was about the inmate’s whose stories spoke to Sister Helen, it was about Charles Warner, the Oklahoma inmate who ate his last meal that same April 30 night as the botched execution and then was told his execution had been stayed (he had to wait months, not knowing when it would happen). It’s about upholding our Constitutional values of due process, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. And, it’s about continuing the fight until the death penalty is abolished in the United States.
The 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.