In December 1986, SuZann Bosler was stabbed and left for dead and witnessed her father, the Reverend Billy Bosler, be killed by an intruder seeking to rob them for drug money at their church parsonage in Opa Locka Florida.
As a Brethren minister, Rev. Bosler had been an opponent of capital punishment, and had once told SueZann that if he was ever murdered he would not want his killer to receive the death penalty.
On her father's behalf, SueZann worked for 10 1/2 years to spare the life of his murderer, James Bernard Campbell, and found it in her heart to forgive him. She in turn helped found the organization Journey of Hope (https://www.journeyofhope.org/) consisting of family members of murder-victims opposed to the death penalty.
The organization believes the death penalty is an act of revenge that will not bring back their loved ones but perpetuate an endless cycle of violence and that it is foolish to show people killing is wrong by killing.
This holiday weekend Journey of Hope organized a four day vigil and teach-in in front of the Supreme Court in conjunction with the national abolitionist organization Starvin' for Justice to coincide with the anniversary of the 1972 Furman v. Georgia and 1976 Gregg v. Georgia Supreme Court cases abolishing and then reinstituting capital punishment.
As David Garland points out in his book Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition, the Furman case vacating the death sentences of 587 condemned men and two women ignited an immediate backlash by white conservatives and death penalty advocates supportive of the Nixon administration's law and order agenda. Georgia's Governor Lester Maddox called the decision a "license for anarchy, rape and murder."
Florida was the first state to reintroduce capital punishment just months after the Furman decision followed by California under Governor Ronald Reagan and Georgia under Governor Jimmy Carter. The Gregg v. Georgia case which followed suit was premised on the argument that democratically elected legislators and not the Supreme Court should determine whether the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Garland points out that the reinstitution of the death penalty was key to the conservative backlash against civil rights, the Great Society, the liberal Warren Court and cultural changes of the 1960s, and was a product of a new culture of control synonymous with harsh sentencing, mass imprisonment and neoliberal economic policy.
Studies have shown that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent to murder or coincide with declining murder rates, as there are many other variables effecting this, and that it costs two to six times as much to kill one person than to incarcerate him for life.
The strongest argument against the death penalty is that it could lead to innocent men or women being killed. It is estimated that four percent of the approximately 3,000 death row inmates are likely innocent, which amounts to over 100 innocent people who could be killed.
In 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan became convinced the system that had produced so many errors could not be trusted to determine life and death verdicts, even for the guilty, and he emptied death row, granting four pardons and 167 commutations for those with death sentences.
Jenn Meeropol spoke outside the Supreme Court at the Starvin' for Justice teach-in last Wednesday about her grandmother Ethel Rosenberg who appears innocent of the charges of espionage directed against her that led to her execution with her husband Julius in 1953. The Rosenberg's did not receive a fair trial in the hysterical climate of McCarthyism.
Grand jury testimony released only last year shows that David Greenglass, who worked for the army weapons lab at Los Alamos and served ten years for conspiracy, changed his story between the Grand Jury and actual trial about Ethel having typewritten blueprints of a cross-section of the bomb and having persuaded his wife Ruth to recruit him into a spy ring led by her husband Julius in order to protect Ruth from prosecution.
Ethel it appears was convicted and executed not for any direct involvement but simply for failing to turn on her husband who according to the Rosenberg family, never engaged in atomic spying.
The Rosenberg's are unfortunately only one of the many cases of people executed unjustly by the state.
in 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by the state of Texas for allegedly starting a house fire that killed his three kids, though a forensic review using updated fire science investigative methods revealed there was likely no arson and the fire was an accident- information Texas state authorities chose to ignore in proceeding with the execution.
Then there is the case of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma who died of a heart attack after twitching and shaking while still alive for 25 minutes after he was given an experimental blend of lethal drugs. The botched execution exposed for everyone the barbaric nature of the death penalty.
Public support for the death penalty has declined considerably since its peak in the mid-1990s and over 20 states have now abolished it.
Nebraska has become a key battleground state on the issue as the legislature voted to rescind it, though the Governor Pete Ricketts (R) vetoed the bill and then financed a $300,000 petition drive with his billionaire father after his veto was overridden.
The Journey of Hope activists are traveling to Nebraska next week to lend their support to the abolitionist efforts.
I was personally moved to hear the stories of Journey of Hope members who after undergoing traumatic life experiences were able to show compassion towards those who had committed horrible acts. Striving to break the cycle of violence gripping our world today, they promote a message of tolerance, healing and love which we should all embrace.
Members of the group include people wrongfully imprisoned such as George White, a former drill sergeant falsely accused of killing his own wife by corrupt, over-zealous prosecutors in Enterprise, Alabama and Shujaa Graham, who was tortured in San Quentin prison after being accused of killing a guard during rebellions that followed the murder of Black Panther Party activist George Jackson.
Graham was exonerated after his fourth trial with the help of community activists who organized his legal defense, though still bears some of the psychological scars. He is living example of the racial discrimination and injustice that continue to mar our court system and of the need for systematic reforms which abolishing the death penalty should be central to.