Monday, June 25, 2012

The World Coalition: Celebrating 10 Years

Penal Reform International has a nice summary of the Tenth General Assembly of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, which was held in Amman, Jordan last week.  

Representing Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights at the General Assembly, Renny Cushing led a workshop on working with murder victims' family members. The General Assembly each year is a valuable opportunity for MVFHR to participate in discussions about the death penalty around the world; this year's panels included a discussion of the death penalty in the Middle East since the Arab Spring and an exploration of steps towards developing and adopting an Optional Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights on abolition of the death penalty, to name just a couple of examples.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I cannot stand by

Great piece by MVFHR board member Yolanda Littlejohn in North Carolina's Star News online:

I was very disappointed and disheartened last week to learn that the N.C. House of Representatives voted to repeal the Racial Justice Act. Despite what supporters of Senate Bill 416 claim, this bill is a repeal of the law because under the revised language, statistics alone would not be sufficient to prove racial bias. A prosecutor would essentially have to admit to making a racially biased decision in jury selection or in pursuing the death penalty in the first place. I find it highly unlikely that any prosecutor is ever going to admit to making a decision based on race.
My sister, Jaquetta Thomas, was brutally murdered in 1991. I understand firsthand the pain of having a loved one taken by violence. More important, I understand that victims' families deserve justice that is equal and fair. Justice that is tainted by racial bias is not justice, and it creates a broken system that continually re-traumatizes victims' families.
As a family member of a victim of murder I am also distressed that the provision allowing an inmate to make a claim based on the race of the victim has been removed in the repeal bill. All victims' lives are equally precious, yet the statistics show that death sentences are much more common when the victim is white.
Since a death sentence is supposedly reserved for the most egregious of crimes, our system is demonstrating a belief that murdering a white person is more egregious than murdering a black person. By removing this provision in the new law, our government is agreeing that white life is of more value than black life. I cannot stand quietly by and pretend that this is okay.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Moral Unease

Yesterday's Mississippi Clarion-Ledger has a column by University of Mississippi Professor Sarah Moses, titled "An Invitation to Moral Unease," that talks about victim opposition to the death penalty and mentions MVFHR.  Here's an excerpt:

News this past week of the June 5 execution of Henry Curtis Jackson here in Mississippi was juxtaposed for me with news that Ohio's governor granted a stay of execution for a death row inmate on the very same day.

I have been troubled about the increase in executions here in Mississippi starting with an unusual announcement in May 2011 that the state intended to execute three inmates in one month. This most recent execution heightened my sense of unease for several reasons, including opposition from the family members of Jackson's victims and questions as to Governor Bryant's use of his pardoning power. 

Furthermore, I think all of us who live in this great state should share my moral unease when we realize that Mississippi's increasing enthusiasm for executions is out of step with national death penalty trends. As news stories reported last week, the relatives of Henry “Curtis” Jackson's victims publicly appealed to the governor for clemency thus raising serious questions about our supposed commitment to victims. The courage of Regina Jackson and Glenda Kuyoro, Jackson's own sisters, is even more remarkable when you consider the gruesome facts of the crime: Regina was stabbed multiple times by her brother, and Henry murdered four of the women's children aged 2 to 5 and paralyzed another.

Despite their profound loss, the women pleaded with the governor not to add to their family's tragedy by allowing the state to kill their brother. As Regina wrote, “As a mother who lost two babies, all I'm asking is that you not make me go through the killing of my brother.”

To be sure, the feelings of murder victims' family members differ from case to case. In recent executions in Mississippi some family members have expressed a belief that justice was served for their slain loved one. On the other hand, Regina and Glenda are not alone in opposing execution of their family members' murderer.

In one of the most high profile executions in recent U.S. history, Bud Welch spoke out against the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, arguing that it would be a disservice to his daughter's memory who was killed in the bombings.

Of course, one of the justifications that lawyers, legislators, and governors often offer in support of the death penalty is that it honors the victim's family. But organizations like Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) have long pointed out that states and prosecutors are not as eager to honor victims' families when they oppose the death penalty, as seen in the Jackson case.

And when you read victims' families' testimonies on the MVFHR website, it is clear that it is simply not true that executions are the only way for victims' families to experience healing and closure. Furthermore, the voices of Regina Jackson and Glenda Kuyoro remind us that the loved ones of death row inmates are our fellow citizens, too, and that executions add to the tragedy of murder by creating loss and sadness for another family.