The execution of Troy Davis was a galvanizing moment raising the profile of the death penalty in America as a civil rights issue. The Governor of Connecticut signed a bill repealing the state’s death penalty into law. “This afternoon I signed legislation that will, effective today, replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the highest form of legal punishment in Connecticut,” Malloy said in a statement released on April 25, 2012 after he signed the bill behind closed doors. Ironically it will not affect the 11 persons already on death row. Governor Malloy, a former prosecutor, said he has seen the imperfections in our criminal justice system. Today he did something about it.
The execution of Troy Davis did have a real impact on Connecticut’s action. Connecticut now becomes the 5th state in 5 years to abolish capital punishment adding to the nationwide trend toward repeal. In all, 17 states have abolished the death penalty. The national NAACP played a critical role in this happening. NAACP president Ben Jealous visited Connecticut three times to lobby for repeal as well as the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund came. Davis’ sister Kimberly even visited Connecticut for news conferences and forums to press for repeal.
Next on the road to end the death penalty is California where voters will go to the polls in the fall to vote to end the death penalty. The tide is slowly turning against the death penalty with hard work by Amnesty International, NAACP and other civil rights groups fighting for a more just society.
Nationwide, the death penalty disproportionately affects blacks and Hispanics more than whites. The Department of Justice looked at data between 1995 – 2000 and found that of 682 defendants charged with death eligible crimes, 48% were black despite blacks making up only 11% of US population. Whites make up only 20% of those cases. Racial inequality is one factor to abolishing the death penalty. The other factor is the death penalty does nothing to deter crime. The most important factor is the moral cost of the death penalty where for every 8.7 Americans sent to the death penalty, one innocent person has been exonerated.
It’s time to end the death penalty now.
Debbie Hines is a lawyer, former prosecutor and legal /political commentator appearing in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian News TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She founded LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. She also writes for the Huffington Post.