We watched the election results with growing disbelief and shock. Raw shock: as though the blow was physical.
I was with activists and strategists who had given their all for Prop 62. Many of us had worked for years to build a large and dedicated movement against the death penalty. We were cautiously optimistic: the late polls had shown us with a slight lead, just as the polls were showing Hillary Clinton with a clear edge nationally. But the early results coming in were not reflecting those polls.
I looked around the room. People were reeling. Some angry. Others looked afraid. Everyone was stunned. I bet you were too.
We saw pro-death penalty initiatives in Nebraska and Oklahoma sweep to victory on a wave of angry Trump voters. Then the California votes started to be counted. After millions of new voters registered in California, we had been hoping for a high turnout driven by millennials. But the initial returns suggested low turnout and not enough support.
By that time we already knew that this election defeat was much bigger than one initiative or one state.
We face a new administration that embraces the death penalty in all its brutality. That new reality will have repercussions far beyond California, beyond the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court.
We all know the country is deeply divided politically. Just as California and the country are divided over the death penalty. But one consequence of that deep division is that even a narrow defeat can seem devastating. That is why, now more than ever, we must stand up, speak out and fight back.
There is a larger campaign that goes far beyond the votes on Election Day. It’s the campaign for hearts and minds that Death Penalty Focus has been waging since its creation in 1988. It’s the campaign that has reduced support for the death penalty from above 80% to barely half. It’s a generational movement that we are winning, despite the backlash we saw in last week’s election.
The death penalty is unjust, racist and cruel. The more the government supports it, the more our voice of opposition needs to be heard.
That’s the work that Death Penalty Focus has always done. We win the hearts and minds to build a movement for justice that is bigger than any one election. And that’s the work Death Penalty Focus will continue to do: Educate, Advocate and Organize.
Thank you for all you have done and continue to do to fight the death penalty.
The United States is slowly turning against the death penalty. Its end seems inevitable, but unfortunately, there were a few setbacks this year. Ballot initiatives in California and Nebraska fell short of passing. Despite this, I feel incredibly encouraged for several reasons.
A recent Pew poll showed that support for the death penalty is at the lowest point since 1972, and there was a seven-point drop in support in just the last year. There are other metrics that portend the death penalty’s eventual demise. So far this year, 18 people have been executed nationwide, and if this trend continues, then 2016 will have the fewest executions since 1991. Death sentences are also in decline. Last year, there were less than 50 across the country, which was the fewest since 1976. While there is still considerable work to do, the great news is polls are demonstrating that opposition to the death penalty is growing and states are slowly abandoning its use.
Conservatives Concerned in the field
Over the past month, CCATDP continued its mission to raise awareness about the death penalty’s many problems. On October 31st, our Charles Koch Communications Fellow, Thomas Johnson, presented at the Austin chapter of Texans for Accountable Government (TAG). Thomas discussed capital punishment’s shortcomings from a fiscal, moral, and penological perspective. While he was there, he spoke with conservative and liberty-minded activists who felt that the death penalty was not only wasteful, but unethical.
On November 11, CCATDP’s Ben Jones participated in a symposium entitled "Death Penalty's Days Numbered?" at Northwestern University’s Law School. In his talk, he discussed the growing conservative and Republican efforts to end the death penalty across the U.S. and the critical importance of this work in the coming years.
Conservatives Concerned in the media
• Katherine Dwyer, our Charles Koch Institute Communications Intern, wrote an op-ed for the San Jose Insider in which she outlined why the death penalty is too expensive and inadequate for California to sustain.
• Republican Logan County Commissioner Marven Goodman wrote an op-ed in the Guthrie News Leader on why Oklahoma cannot be trusted with capital punishment, and he was also quoted in the Associated Press.
• I had the opportunity to write for Rare on how the death penalty is slowly but surely dwindling. I was also quoted in Townhall, the Villages Sun Times, as well as the Oklahoma Welcome News.
• Thomas Johnson spoke with 1370 AM’s Come and Talk It on the flaws of ballistic fingerprinting in capital proceedings and how the death penalty risks innocent life.
• Equal Justice USA’s Executive Director, Shari Silbertstein, wrote in Virgin United’s blog about the growing network of conservatives, Evangelicals, and Latinos calling for death penalty repeal.
Share your concerns
As Conservatives Concerned continues to speak out about the death penalty’s inadequacies, we need your help to reach more Americans.
For those of you who would like to join our effort, we encourage you to share Marven Goodman’s op-ed on Facebook.
As more conservatives become aware of the death penalty’s inherent inefficiencies, we are confident that capital punishment’s use will continue to decline.