2011: Five Good Signs For Death Penalty Abolition in the US

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stop the execution death penalty protesters

© Scott Langley

Given the dramatic events of the “Arab Spring” and “Occupy Wall Street”, Time Magazine has dubbed “The Protester” as its Person of the Year for 2011. Seems fitting enough, but someday we may also look back on this past year as a turning point in the history of death penalty abolition in the U.S.

On September 21, the crowds amassed around the world to protest the killing of Troy Davis were the most visible sign that opponents of capital punishment were turning up the volume.  But that wasn’t the only sign. Throughout the year more and more voices from across the U.S. spoke out against the death penalty.

To be sure, executions continued.  There were 43 executions in 13 states, though this was about half as many as there were in the year 2000.  But death sentences were 30% lower than they have ever been since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. And beginning in January, when Missouri Governor Nixon commuted the death sentence of Richard Clay, all the way through December, when prosecutors decided to drop their efforts to seek death for Mumia Abu-Jamal, commitment to the death penalty, even on the part of its supporters, was on the wane, and there were many signs that momentum for ending executions was on the rise:

SIGN #1:  DOUBTS RISE IN OHIO

Ohio in recent years has executed more people than any state except Texas.  But in January, Paul E. Pfeifer, a Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice who as a legislator had helped write Ohio’s current death penalty law, called for its repeal. Terry Collins, a former prison warden who had overseen 33 Ohio executions, did likewise.

Later in the year, Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich commuted two death sentences. And the year in the Buckeye State concluded with Justice Pfeifer testifying to the legislature that Ohio has a “death lottery” not a death penalty, adding “Ohio is no longer well served by our death-penalty statute. It should be repealed.

SIGN #2: VICTIMS AND THEIR FAMILIES SPEAK OUT

In early February, families of Connecticut murder victims submitted a letter urging that state to stop killing in their name.  The letter now has over 80 signers.  The letter said, succinctly, “Connecticut’s death penalty fails victims’ families.” Though Connecticut did not pass an abolition bill this year, state legislators should be persuaded to honor the wishes of these dozens of victims’ family members in 2012.

In Texas, Rais Bhuiyan sought tirelessly to prevent the July execution of Mark Stroman, a white supremacist who tried to kill him and did kill two others because of their Middle Eastern appearance.  Rais was unsuccessful, but his voice became yet another to declare that “At some point we have to break the cycle of violence. It brings more disaster.”

SIGN #3: TROY DAVIS

Disaster came in September with the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.  But the injustice of his execution, despite serious doubts about his guilt, generated an unprecedented flood of opposition both to his execution and to the death penalty itself.  Troy Davis was named one of Time Magazine’s People Who Mattered in 2011, and the story became a Time Magazine top ten U.S. news story of the year. It was also the second most Tweeted story in 2011 (based on Tweets-per-second).

Six former prison wardens who have collectively overseen 65 executions called for a halt to Troy’s.  Hundreds of thousands signed petitions opposing the execution, and took the Pledge to work for abolition of the death penalty after the death sentence was carried out.  A Gallup poll released shortly afterwards showed death penalty support at its lowest since 1972.   Conservatives like Kathleen Parker called capital punishment an “abomination”. She wrote:  “When we join together to administer death, we become something other than a civilized community of men and women. No matter how we frame the arguments or justifications, we become executioners.”

SIGN #4:  MORE STATES MOVE TOWARDS ABOLITION

Just as the Troy Davis drama was heating up, Californians launched an effort to prevent the 37 million residents of their state from becoming executioners. The SAFE California initiative, if placed on the November 2012 ballot and passed, will replace the death penalty with life without parole and use some of the millions of dollars saved to address California’s dismal unsolved murder rate.

Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland and Montana also remained close to repealing their capital punishment laws, and in November the Governor of Oregon declared that he would not allow any executions to be carried out under his watch.  And of course, Illinois became the 16th state to ban capital punishment when, on March 9, Governor Pat Quinn signed an abolition bill into law.  As he signed the bill he said: “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.  I think it’s the right, just thing to abolish the death penalty.”

SIGN #5:  DRUG COMPANIES DISTANCE THEMSELVES

Throughout 2011, pharmaceutical companies were scrambling (usually unsuccessfully) to prevent executions from being carried out with their drugs.  In January, Hospira stopped production of sodium thiopental. In February Novartis announced it would not allow its version of sodium thiopental to be exported to the U.S.  And by June, Lundbeck, the maker of the anesthetic pentobarbital, was taking increasingly proactive steps (with the considerable encouragement of European campaigners like Reprieve) to try to stop its drug from being used to kill prisoners.

Though executions were carried out with Lundbeck’s drug, the company’s more active approach has caused at least a couple of states to look elsewhere, and now a fourth company, Naari, has been dragged into the U.S. execution business, without its knowledge or consent. Its spokesman stated recently:  “We’re not in the business of helping to execute people. We were lied to and cheated.”

Throughout 2011, public and even political enthusiasm for playing the role of executioner was dwindling.  And rejection of participation in executions was growing.  In the Year of the Protester, more people than ever before stepped up and spoke out against the death penalty. In 2012, support for death penalty abolition is likely to become  louder and more visible than ever.

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26 thoughts on “2011: Five Good Signs For Death Penalty Abolition in the US

  1. keep dreaming you bleending hearts. The DP will never end in Texas! I hope someone murders you and your loved ones, that would be justice.

  2. keep dreaming you bleending hearts. The DP will never end in Texas! I hope someone murders you and your loved ones, that would be justice.

  3. 'FU' represents the ignorant and absurd people who are pro capital punishment. The comment alone just illustrates how barbaric and uneducated such attitudes are. Thank you for your comment, FU, I couldn't have condemned you better myself.

  4. ‘FU’ represents the ignorant and absurd people who are pro capital punishment. The comment alone just illustrates how barbaric and uneducated such attitudes are. Thank you for your comment, FU, I couldn’t have condemned you better myself.

  5. It's rather difficult to believe that our society may be finally getting over it's sick and twisted bloodlust. (though comments from the likes of FU above prove that there are still plenty of sad and hate-filled creeps around.) But it certainly would be nice to hope that things are really changing.

  6. It’s rather difficult to believe that our society may be finally getting over it’s sick and twisted bloodlust. (though comments from the likes of FU above prove that there are still plenty of sad and hate-filled creeps around.) But it certainly would be nice to hope that things are really changing.

  7. For starters, FU is just that…he's FUed in the head! Why am I not surprised of the run away blood lust in the state of Texas? Hell, they will take your driver's license for merely neglecting to pay a single parking ticket! Talk about a punitive place to avoid! Execution statistics in america are very revealing. Over 15,000 since 1608, and some as young as 12! Well over 50% of the executions in every southern state have been african americans. Is this the kind of american "traditionalism" that these warmongering conservatives are proud of? Oh boy!

  8. For starters, FU is just that…he’s FUed in the head! Why am I not surprised of the run away blood lust in the state of Texas? Hell, they will take your driver’s license for merely neglecting to pay a single parking ticket! Talk about a punitive place to avoid! Execution statistics in america are very revealing. Over 15,000 since 1608, and some as young as 12! Well over 50% of the executions in every southern state have been african americans. Is this the kind of american “traditionalism” that these warmongering conservatives are proud of? Oh boy!

  9. In an article by Richard C. Dieter, the Executive Director for the Death Penalty Information Center (n.d.), he states that, at the time the article was written, that Texas had over 300 inmates on death row, costing the state an estimated $2.3 million per case. The cost of keeping an inmate for 40 years in Texas?..approximately $693,500 per http://www.deathpenalty.org (2009). However, when we consider the overcrowding of prisons and the horrible economy, couldn't more institutions be built, (more jobs) inmates could provide work, learn trades, and innocent inmates at least would have the opportunity to be alive when new evidence is brought forward to exonerate them, instead of the current system?
    Oh, and FU…I see you didn't write any of us back. Bring it on.

  10. In an article by Richard C. Dieter, the Executive Director for the Death Penalty Information Center (n.d.), he states that, at the time the article was written, that Texas had over 300 inmates on death row, costing the state an estimated $2.3 million per case. The cost of keeping an inmate for 40 years in Texas?..approximately $693,500 per http://www.deathpenalty.org (2009). However, when we consider the overcrowding of prisons and the horrible economy, couldn't more institutions be built, (more jobs) inmates could provide work, learn trades, and innocent inmates at least would have the opportunity to be alive when new evidence is brought forward to exonerate them, instead of the current system?
    Oh, and FU…I see you didn't write any of us back. Bring it on.

  11. In an article by Richard C. Dieter, the Executive Director for the Death Penalty Information Center (n.d.), he states that, at the time the article was written, that Texas had over 300 inmates on death row, costing the state an estimated $2.3 million per case. The cost of keeping an inmate for 40 years in Texas?..approximately $693,500 per http://www.deathpenalty.org (2009). However, when we consider the overcrowding of prisons and the horrible economy, couldn't more institutions be built, (more jobs) inmates could provide work, learn trades, and innocent inmates at least would have the opportunity to be alive when new evidence is brought forward to exonerate them, instead of the current system?
    Oh, and FU…I see you didn't write any of us back. Bring it on.

  12. In an article by Richard C. Dieter, the Executive Director for the Death Penalty Information Center (n.d.), he states that, at the time the article was written, that Texas had over 300 inmates on death row, costing the state an estimated $2.3 million per case. The cost of keeping an inmate for 40 years in Texas?..approximately $693,500 per http://www.deathpenalty.org (2009). However, when we consider the overcrowding of prisons and the horrible economy, couldn’t more institutions be built, (more jobs) inmates could provide work, learn trades, and innocent inmates at least would have the opportunity to be alive when new evidence is brought forward to exonerate them, instead of the current system?
    Oh, and FU…I see you didn’t write any of us back. Bring it on.

  13. Torture and death is law in USA, and citizens rights removed with the Patriot act, US being a police state, and as being a Predator state trying to apply its laws in all other countries, ALL countries of the world being the Enemy of US security(unless they give their resources like Oil for nothing)____ As the average worker citizen and taxpayer is maintaining military bases on all the planet with borrowed money from a privatized Fed_____Corruption is also legal in US under the name of bank and (including military) multinationals lobbeying speculation and fiscal heavens hedge funds.____Only Fifty countries bombed by US since 1949 without any legal or logical reasons(except maybe increase the profits of the American companies abroad), war being very profitable for the banks and industry also for the political elite like BushCheneyRumsfeld having shares in Halliburton, Exxon, Raythion, Carlyle(along with the BinLaden family) GeneralDynamics, northrupGrumman etc…

  14. Torture and death is law in USA, and citizens rights removed with the Patriot act, US being a police state, and as being a Predator state trying to apply its laws in all other countries, ALL countries of the world being the Enemy of US security(unless they give their resources like Oil for nothing)____ As the average worker citizen and taxpayer is maintaining military bases on all the planet with borrowed money from a privatized Fed_____Corruption is also legal in US under the name of bank and (including military) multinationals lobbeying speculation and fiscal heavens hedge funds.____Only Fifty countries bombed by US since 1949 without any legal or logical reasons(except maybe increase the profits of the American companies abroad), war being very profitable for the banks and industry also for the political elite like BushCheneyRumsfeld having shares in Halliburton, Exxon, Raythion, Carlyle(along with the BinLaden family) GeneralDynamics, northrupGrumman etc…

  15. The death penalty should be abolished. It's unethical movement all in its own, and people who have been executed have been proven to be innocent later on. If the death penalty has to exist, they should at least be 100% sure that they're executing the right person. That was the biggest flaw in Troy Davis' case, and is currently the problem in Reggie Clemen's case. There is no physical evidence that connect either to the crime yet one has been executed and the other on his way. It's disappointing to see what kind of country we live in. It's supposed to be the land of the free yet people are being denied to a life each and every day.
    I'm glad that we are on our way to removing the death penalty. It's something that should have been abolished ages ago, but I am glad that there is finally a positive turn of events. It's disappointing that people took notice after an innocent man lost his life.

  16. The death penalty should be abolished. It’s unethical movement all in its own, and people who have been executed have been proven to be innocent later on. If the death penalty has to exist, they should at least be 100% sure that they’re executing the right person. That was the biggest flaw in Troy Davis’ case, and is currently the problem in Reggie Clemen’s case. There is no physical evidence that connect either to the crime yet one has been executed and the other on his way. It’s disappointing to see what kind of country we live in. It’s supposed to be the land of the free yet people are being denied to a life each and every day.
    I’m glad that we are on our way to removing the death penalty. It’s something that should have been abolished ages ago, but I am glad that there is finally a positive turn of events. It’s disappointing that people took notice after an innocent man lost his life.

  17. I can agree with Angelia when you say, "If the death penalty has to exist, they should at least be 100% sure that they’re executing the right person." They need to repeal the details, but not the law. I am neither ignorant, sad, hate-filled, absurd, nor barbaric. I do not have a sick and twisted bloodlust, but I do believe in, "an eye for an eye." If you have taken another human being's rights away by murdering them, you too should have to die (once you have at least lived out most of your sentence to rot in prison for the hateful crime). I believe child molesters should have their privates removed (or their eyes) and should not be separated in prison. They should be violated like they violated their innocent victims. I think that thieves should have their hand(s) cut off. Listen, basically I feel that there are unfortunately too many criminals out there and that we need to make room for them. What is the point of keeping a criminal alive to live out more than one life sentence without parole? It is a waste of the country's money and resources. I can agree with Memphisrain…. more institutions should be built which will create more jobs, but again that will take more money which means we pay more taxes.

    PS, I am not a Texan and do not associate myself with FU's point of view!

  18. I can agree with Angelia when you say, “If the death penalty has to exist, they should at least be 100% sure that they’re executing the right person.” They need to repeal the details, but not the law. I am neither ignorant, sad, hate-filled, absurd, nor barbaric. I do not have a sick and twisted bloodlust, but I do believe in, “an eye for an eye.” If you have taken another human being’s rights away by murdering them, you too should have to die (once you have at least lived out most of your sentence to rot in prison for the hateful crime). I believe child molesters should have their privates removed (or their eyes) and should not be separated in prison. They should be violated like they violated their innocent victims. I think that thieves should have their hand(s) cut off. Listen, basically I feel that there are unfortunately too many criminals out there and that we need to make room for them. What is the point of keeping a criminal alive to live out more than one life sentence without parole? It is a waste of the country’s money and resources. I can agree with Memphisrain…. more institutions should be built which will create more jobs, but again that will take more money which means we pay more taxes.

    PS, I am not a Texan and do not associate myself with FU’s point of view!

  19. I am not a supporter of the death penalty,because i don't like to see a fellow human being killed for what he/she did not do.But a counter argument to this is,what should be done with those who commit capital offences,i've tried to look for an answer to such question,but have not found even from idiosyncratic against deathpenalty.Really if that question can be answered satisfactory then i will be fully against death penalty but now am still on the fence.

  20. I am not a supporter of the death penalty,because i don’t like to see a fellow human being killed for what he/she did not do.But a counter argument to this is,what should be done with those who commit capital offences,i’ve tried to look for an answer to such question,but have not found even from idiosyncratic against deathpenalty.Really if that question can be answered satisfactory then i will be fully against death penalty but now am still on the fence.

  21. @FU. Why the hell would you shrink to their level? Just because they may have killed somebody dosn't mean that you should kill them! It's revenge murder! Besides, this is mainly about the injustice that comes with racial, geographical, and ignorance over lacking evidence. The DP must be repealed, and you have to shut up! Your making me sick!

  22. @FU. Why the hell would you shrink to their level? Just because they may have killed somebody dosn’t mean that you should kill them! It’s revenge murder! Besides, this is mainly about the injustice that comes with racial, geographical, and ignorance over lacking evidence. The DP must be repealed, and you have to shut up! Your making me sick!

  23. I definitely don't support the death penalty, and am ashamed to call myself a citizen of any country that does. Today's society has obviously misconstrued the obligation they have to the entire world as citizens. It is absolutely not human to execute your grandmother for having a mental disease like dementia, and unknowingly stabbing someone with her fork. So, why on earth would anyone assume it was alright to execute a complete stranger on grounds that are as unmoral ? A life for a life does not make things right and never will. A study into the mental status at the time however, could quite possibly be a breakthrough to science. Perhaps if they studied the things that set murderers off before committing acts of violence, they would find a gold mine of information that could benefit the whole of the world, instead of throwing those opportunities away with execution.

  24. I definitely don’t support the death penalty, and am ashamed to call myself a citizen of any country that does. Today’s society has obviously misconstrued the obligation they have to the entire world as citizens. It is absolutely not human to execute your grandmother for having a mental disease like dementia, and unknowingly stabbing someone with her fork. So, why on earth would anyone assume it was alright to execute a complete stranger on grounds that are as unmoral ? A life for a life does not make things right and never will. A study into the mental status at the time however, could quite possibly be a breakthrough to science. Perhaps if they studied the things that set murderers off before committing acts of violence, they would find a gold mine of information that could benefit the whole of the world, instead of throwing those opportunities away with execution.