Any one person's report from a large conference is always just a glimpse, not the whole picture. I can say, though, that several people I talked to said they found this year's National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty conference particularly full of engaging and challenging sessions. I very much appreciated the opening plenary titled "New Research, New Reasons to Be Against the Death Penalty," which included Rachel Hardesty's powerful talk about her conversations with district attorneys (we'll have an excerpt from this talk in our spring newsletter) and remarks from Ron McAndrew, the former Florida prison warden and victim's family member whom we interviewed in this issue of our newsletter.
Continuing on a similar theme was the workshop session, "Bringing Law Enforcement Voices into Your Campaign," very ably and enthusiastically led by Laura Porter of Equal Justice USA and Denver Schimming of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. Then there was the session on "Working with Murder Victim Family Members," in which MVFHR Executive Director Renny Cushing and Marie Verzulli led us through an exercise that helped bring out the many commonalities among victims' family members regardless of their position on the death penalty. Marie, who is the victim outreach coordinator for New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, continues to do valuable work with victims' families in New York.
Renny then spoke, along with Laura Porter, at a plenary session on "Community Reactions in the Wake of Murder." We'll be posting excerpts from that talk here soon.
We MVFHR folks also very much appreciated the integration of human rights language and an international awareness into several aspects of the conference, including the talk by Elizabeth Zitrin of Death Penalty Focus and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the workshop session on "The Death Penalty and International Law" led by David Fathi of Human Rights Watch. I then enjoyed the exchange of information, ideas, and possible strategies that took place in the caucus on mental illness and the death penalty.
In addition to these formal sessions (and the many others that I was not able to get to but that I heard great things about), there were, as always, many good opportunities to meet and talk with victims' family members, members of the group Witness to Innocence (whose tales of their lives before and after exoneration need to be heard as widely as possible), and our colleagues and friends from all around the movement to abolish the death penalty. Thanks to NCADP for all the work that went into creating the conference.