(top) California People of Faith Against
From The Valley Catholic, Newspaper for the Diocese of San Jose, Nov. 16, 2010
By Roberta Ward
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Oct. 10, in downtown Palo Alto, some 20 people gathered to observe World Day Against the Death Penalty.
Holding signs and banners, they also provided testimony and background information on the death penalty in the United States and beyond.
Sponsored by the California Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the rally in Lytton Plaza was largely ignored by the dozens of passers-by who were strolling in the heavily trafficked area.
The compelling program, however, provided significant evidence and pleas for an end to the death penalty in the U.S., one of only a few countries which still allow it.
Speaker Gerard McGuire said that 139 countries, in Western Europe and North and South America, have now abolished the death penalty.
The U.S. stands among the top five countries in the world for carrying out the most executions, the other four being China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Some other countries still using the death penalty include Iraq, North Korea, Yemen, Jordon, Afghanistan, Cuba, Uganda and Libya.
“A clear majority of countries reject the death penalty,” McGuire said.
Other data shows that persons more likely to be sentenced to the death penalty are persons of color, especially if their victims have been white.
There have also been convicted “murderers” who have been freed from Death Row because subsequent evidence proved they were innocent.
Terry McCaffrey, of California People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, said that “today there is hope that the end of the death penalty is coming.”
More people seem to be concerned, he said, and are questioning the morality and actual practice of the death penalty.
The weekend of the rally, an execution by lethal injection was pending in California and was ultimately put on hold due to issues regarding the types and availability of drugs to be used.
This was the second time lethal injection has been questioned in the state and followed the recent unveiling of a revamped, more spacious and better lit execution chamber, one that would allow for more observers to watch the death.
California People of Faith (CPF) provides an array of data regarding myths and realties of the death penalty. A major myth is that executions deter murders.
Reality: the State of Texas, which executes more prisoners than any other, also records the highest number of murders. The 15 U.S. states which have abolished the death penalty consistently show the lowest number of murders.
Another myth contends that there is no alternative to the death penalty. Reality: permanent imprisonment with no parole or any other options accomplishes community safety and also saves millions of taxpayer dollars.
Capital punishment is much more expensive than life in prison. Capital trials in California cost more than $1 million more than non-capital trials and expensive appeals can go on for years, only adding to the costs.
Another myth deals with victims’ families, stressing that execution is the only means of redressing their grief. Reality: families’ anger and grief do not dissipate following an execution of the alleged murderer of a loved one.
Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking,” notes that survivor families who seek reconciliation and forgiveness fare better as they put their lives and emotions back together.
That is the essence of Restorative Justice, being observed during the month of November as called for by the California Catholic Conference of Bishops.
Dawn Spears, whose daughter Tameca was murdered in 2005, spoke at the Palo Alto rally, calling for an end to executions.
“Murder is murder is murder,” she said. “The death penalty is murder with the state’s sanction. Do not murder in my daughter’s name.”
Palo Alto City Council member Karen Holman explained that “many community programs and services are impacted because the state takes funds from our local communities” to pay for the long incarcerations and expenses related to capital punishment.
Another myth supports the notion that it is rare that innocent people are sentenced to death. Reality: Since 1973, over 130 men and women have actually been released from Death Row due to wrongful conviction.
Perhaps the question is, how many of those already executed might also have been found to have been wrongfully convicted?
The ultimate myth is that religious teachings support the death penalty. Reality: A majority of religious denominations in the U.S. oppose capital punishment, especially the U.S. Bishops who have been advocating against it for over 25 years and who, in 2005, initiated the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.
CPF also lists more than a dozen other specific religious denominations or major movements which have stated opposition.
CPF claims, “Its [capital punishment] very existence sets a tone which insists on punishment and retribution, rather than rehabilitation, redemption, and restorative justice.
“Let us resist the corrosive temptation of vengeance and instead embrace respect for the dignity of human life.”