Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Abolition - It's Just Common Sense

Last Friday, March 13, 2009, as I sat in the gallery of the New Mexico Senate listening to that body debate whether to pass a bill to repeal New Mexico’s death penalty statute, I felt very much like I had been there before. In fact, 15 months ago, December 13, 2007 I was in the gallery of the New Jersey Assembly listening to pretty much the same debate. As in New Jersey, New Mexico’s legislature sent the bill to the Governor’s desk, and today, Governor Richardson signed the bill. This makes New Mexico only the second state since 1965 to legislatively repeal its death penalty.

As a person who used to support the death penalty who is now working to abolish it, I feel both proud and privileged to have so far been a part of two successful repeal campaigns. It validates my own experience, clearly demonstrating that the more you know about the death penalty, the less you like it. I find validation in the years of daily grind, working on the front lines to sow and tend to the seeds of abolition, and helping other individuals and groups do so as effectively as possible. And it validates my experience that no one can do this alone – it takes a team of many, and it takes time.

To me, this victory comes not as a surprise, but with a very happy sigh of relief. Moving any bill through a legislature and all the way to an executive signature is no small feat. I’m relieved that we did it *this year*. I will not be surprised to see at least one more legislative repeal in another state this year, and I will not be surprised when we finish this job across this country sometime in the next decade or two.

We will finish this struggle. We will finish it just as long as leaders like the legislators who sponsored and pushed these bills in New Jersey and New Mexico continue to step forward. We will finish this struggle as long as people of faith and people of good conscience – regular people making themselves heard - continue to raise their voices in concert with all those who participated with the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty and its many coalition partners. We will finish this struggle as long as scholars continue to uncover the facts about the failures of the system. We will finish this struggle as long as more and more members of the law enforcement community continue to step up and show us how it is wrong and does not work as a tool to fight crime. We will finish this struggle as long as “Voices of Experience” like murder victim family members and survivors of wrongful conviction put an undeniable face on this issue.

We will finish this struggle because it is the common sense thing to do. Our challenge is to help more people understand why the death penalty is a bad public policy, and give greater backing to legislators and governors willing to stand up for what is right. Our challenge is to support the people and organizations doing this work day in and day out. Our challenge is make and keep a promise to leave this world a better place for our children by working to abolish the death penalty in the United States and worldwide. It’s just common sense.

Today is Abolition Day in New Mexico – March 18, 2009. I am keeping my promise.

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