In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all U.S. death penalty laws, declaring them unconstitutional. Public support for capital punishment was low back then, but by 1976, the death penalty had made a comeback and, 1,200+ executions later, here we are.
Yet now public support for the death penalty is as low as it’s been since 1972, and the New York Times this weekend made the case that it may really be on its way out. The number of death sentences and executions annually has plummeted over the past decade, and 24 of the 50 states have either abolished capital punishment or not carried out an execution in 12 years or more.
In addition, the execution of Troy Davis was an eye-opener for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and exposed how horrifically and fatally flawed our capital punishment system actually is. But these changes in public opinion and practice at the state level have not always translated into legislative votes repealing the death penalty. To prevent future injustices, and to win more abolition victories, will require a serious commitment to get involved locally, and to stay involved until the death penalty in every state is nothing but an embarrassing chapter in our history books.