By Rachel Kahn
I share an office, at National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), with my favorite person to rant about politics with, named Mamoudou. Every day while I do research, I come across some political story that frustrates me. I then turn to Mamoudou and we get into a deep political discussion. Next to his desk, taped to the wall, is a bumper sticker that reads, “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?” The hypocrisy makes me laugh. It asks a question that has no sensible response.
At the NCADP, I am working with the 90 Million Strong Campaign, which is currently focusing its efforts in Nebraska, to prepare for a ballot initiative being voted on this November. In 2015, a bill was passed to abolish the death penalty in that state. Then Republican Governor Ricketts donated $200,000 to support a ballot initiative, which reintroduced a bill to bring the death penalty back to the table. Why does this Governor so desperately need to have the power to kill someone legally, that he would give up $200,000? That money could have been put to crime prevention programs in schools, or put towards scholarship funds to help put kids through college, or put toward any other beneficial program for citizens of Nebraska. If more efforts were placed on crime prevention and public safety programs, then crime would decrease, helping to decrease the prison population. This would save millions of taxpayer dollars as well as protect the welfare of communities and families greatly impacted by the criminal justice system. When the public feels safe, there is less desire for the death penalty.
In ancient times, there were four methods of execution. This entailed stoning, burning, hanging or slaying; basically, stones, fire, rope, or sword. Thankfully, at least none of these ancient methods are used today... or are they? While lethal injection has become the execution method of choice, many of the drugs are not available in the US and are mysteriously imported by states. Jeffery Stern writes about lethal injection and botched executions in a 2015 The Atlantic article. Typically, lethal injection entails a three drug cocktail. The first drug is used to induce unconsciousness. The second drug paralyzes muscles so that if the first drug does not work, then viewers do not have to be traumatized by watching muscle spasms and screams of pain. The third drug induces cardiac arrest and eventually stops the heart. This whole cocktail may take a couple of hours to work, though, when improperly administered (which sometimes occurs because doctors are not legally authorized to administer the drugs). These drugs can make a person feel like they are burning alive from the inside, which can be confirmed by Charles Warner who stated, “My body is on fire,” during his execution in 2015. A firing squad, which was recently used in Utah as an execution method, could be compared to stoning and slaying; it's a two in one- hard substance with extreme force being exerted on a living being to harm and pierce through skin so they eventually die. Even hanging is not off the books for two states, WA and NH, and this method has been used three times since 1976. So it seems we are one of the only western world nations who has not progressed very much over the past 5,000 years.
As a senior at American University studying psychology and justice, my passion is criminal justice reform. This summer, working with such incredible, passionate, friendly people has only made my passion stronger and my desire to help create a fair and logical system. Long hours and unbelievable dedication is what keeps this organization alive. I am so lucky I was able to be a part of it and move their progress forward. I ask you now, after interning at the NCADP for two and a half months, to begin the conversation about criminal justice system and death penalty reform.
California and Nebraska have vital initiatives and referendums on their ballots this November. If you reside in these states, go out and vote to end the death penalty! California has two bills: the Justice That Works Act 2016 and the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act 2016. The first repeals the death penalty and the latter cuts the appeals process. While appeals may take some time, more than the 151 people who have been released from death row due to innocence and wrongful convictions can tell you how vital this process is for true justice. In Nebraska, the vote is to either retain current legislation that has already abolished the death penalty, or repeal the legislation, which will bring the death penalty back. Therefore, to vote against the death penalty, you are voting to retain the current legislation.
Those who reside in other states can stay up to date about current death penalty cases, like the controversial Jeffery Wood case, by subscribing to the Execution Alert. Write to your local government or congressman to stop the death penalty and share ways to promote public safety and crime prevention methods. Join the 90 Million Strong campaign and share why you believe the death penalty is wrong. The eighth amendment is just as important as all of the other ones!