Earlier this week, NCADP Executive Director, Diann Rust-Tierney, spoke with reporter Elias Isquith of Salon magazine about the current state of the death penalty in the U.S. and the goals of the 90 Million Strong Campaign.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview:
It seems like the debate has shifted away from arguing over values and now has more of a focus on metrics — i.e., instead of fighting about whether the death penalty is right or wrong, it’s a fight over whether it works even on its own terms. But are there any dangers to having a conversation about making it work if you fundamentally would rather it not exist at all?
Our organization is not engaged in the business of making the death penalty work; we believe it’s unworkable and we think 30-plus years of experimenting has shown that it can’t work. There’s the idea that we can have a fair system that sends people to death row and executes them in a way we can all feel comfortable with, but what we’ve seen over and over again is that that’s just not possible.
What we’re trying to do is help the public and policymakers really focus in on the death penalty in practice. The conversation that was talking place before now was really about the death penalty in the abstract but the abstract idea that it’s possible to do this well is not consistent with the reality. The difference now is that we’re confronting the reality of the death penalty. We’re confronting the fact that it is not possible to do it in a way that ensures that we don’t execute innocent people; that it is not possible to do it in a way that ensures that race doesn’t influence the decision. This country is in the midst of a discussion about the impact of race on our criminal justice system and the fact that citizens living in the same community have very different experiences with the criminal justice system based on their race.
That’s not a system that any one of us can believe will produce a result we can stand by. Plus, we have nothing to show for all the effort and pain we’ve put into the death penalty. The states that have the death penalty and use it can’t boast that they have lower homicide rates; in fact, some of them have higher rates. It’s not keeping us safe and it is undermining our other values about racial justice and about making sure that justice isn’t based on how much a person can pay. For us, this is not a conversation about getting it fixed, it’s a conversation about exposing to the public the way in which this institution operates and showing them that it doesn’t operate close to how they would hope or expect.
Has there been a shift within religious communities over the past generation or so in terms of how they approach the death penalty?
I think so. I saw this happen with Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow.” We saw churches reading that book as a book club and discussing it — not just reading the book but then taking action. I do think there has been a resurgence in the faith community going back, in some ways, to their roots of ministering to those in prison and helping families in communities. I do think there is a new energy coming from people of faith across the board. We’re seeing it among Evangelicals, we’re seeing it among Catholics; all across the board people are going back to the core values of faith, which has always been about caring for the least of us. Millennials, as we know, are looking for ways of making a difference and they see that as part of their mission. We’re seeing young people getting engaged and seeing that it’s their time to take up the mantle, so it’s really very positive and I do think the faith community is a big part of it.
For people who aren’t as plugged into the issue, what are some the next steps you’re taking to address the larger, overarching goal of a nationwide conversation about ending the death penalty?
We’ve launched a campaign called the 90 Million Strong campaign, the goal of which is to really engage more and more people in the struggle to end the death penalty. There is an enormous public out there that knows that the death penalty is wrong and needs to get engaged, so what we’ve done is reached out and gotten 15 national organizations to collectively get the information out and encourage people to speak with their networks and their friends to get them engaged. We’re encouraging people to be active in state efforts to end the death penalty, in state efforts to stop individual executions.
Our job really is to continue to mobilize what we believe is a significant number of people in the country who know that the death penalty is wrong and are going to say that now is the time to stop it. Through this next year we want to double the number of organizations engaged in this effort and further expand the number of people who are engaged. We want to see more states move towards ending the death penalty, and we want to provide the information necessary for them to do that. We believe that this is an idea whose time has come, and our job over the next year is to enlist more and more people in this effort from all across the political spectrum and from all walks of life to really make this a grassroots effort to end the death penalty.
You can read the full interview here: "'We’re seeing it among Evangelicals': How death penalty politics radically, shockingly changed
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.