The Abolitionist New  
Vol. 2, No. 1
January 2014
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It's An Uphill Push To Abolish 
The Death Penalty In America
Ronald T. Clemmons

     Sisyphus, the wily and ruthless mythological Greek king of Corinth, was unafraid of the other gods and often tricked them unmercifully. On one occasion, he captured of the god of death which upset the natural order of the world since no one could die while the god was a prisoner. His hubris, however, was his undoing. When finally captured, Sisyphus was given a unique punishment: he was sentenced to roll a gargantuan boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down to where he started whenever he neared the peak. This task had to be repeated daily for eternity.


     Oftentimes, it seems that working with death penalty issues is comparable to Sisyphus' task. The same issues seem to reappear daily, with no foreseeable end in sight. The euphoria of victory for one inmate is dulled by a fatuous decision that affects dozens of men in another state. Each day, nonetheless, while pushing the rock up the hill, there is time to reflect on new approaches that might help achieve success.  Having served as convener of the Death Penalty Abolition Action Group for the last twelve months, I have a few ideas.


     Eradicating The Death Penalty Will Be The Work Of A Small Group- Given the political climate in the United States, a mass movement calling for the elimination of the death penalty and the immediate cessation of executions is unlikely to occur. Historically, a small, dedicated cadre of people has been able to effect change in this country. Abolitionists, southern secessionists, prohibitionists, and the modern Tea Party are groups that have influenced political action inversely proportional to the number of members they represented.


     Each of the thirty-two states with the death penalty need a core group of "shock troops" who are committed to devote the time and effort necessary to achieve abolition of the death penalty. This inner corps needs to develop a plan to repeal the death penalty based upon the political climate of the particular state in which they live. Long-range and short-range goals needs to be developed and people recruited who have the skills to achieve the objectives.


      The Episcopal Peace Fellowship, partnering with other faith-based groups, should take the lead in achieving this goal.


     The National Church Needs To Offer Assistance- The national Episcopal Church needs to become actively involved in eradicating the death penalty. Surely within the committee structure of the national church, there is some group that could help nullify the stain of state-sponsored death. Two requests were made for help from the national church, but recognition that the death penalty is a problem was the gist of the reply. Why won't the church take a lead in helping states repeal death penalty laws?


     Education Of Christians Is Ongoing Need- We need to continue educating our friends and people with whom we have contact about the inequities of the death penalty. This program of instruction should start with the people we sit beside each week at church. Some of the most malicious statements uttered about death row inmates are from people who pride themselves on their devotion to Christ. These are usually good people who participate fully in parish life, but have a moral blind-spot when considering executions.


     Too many people accept as fact that the criminal justice system is fair and blind. Consequently, they assume everything they hear or read about a person on death row is true. If you can talk with them, interject facts and explain how the system may have conspired against the person then you might have the person reconsider their opinion. Even if the inmate is guilty, you have an opportunity to talk about whether the death penalty as a fitting punishment in the twenty-first century.


     Participate In A Death Row Visitation Program- Most states have programs where death row inmates are allowed to have visitors. Check with the prison housing death row inmates in your state to get details on what's involved to visit in the prison. These programs are good for the inmate, but they are excellent for visitors. As a rule, stereotypes of prisons and inmates are shed quickly. You will be a better informed abolitionist, but you will also be a friend to one of those people Jesus told us to remember.


     We have a long way to go to abolish the death penalty, and some of the road signs are disconcerting. We must, however, be like Sisyphus. Each day, although we know the rock will roll backwards, we must maintain hope that the boulder will roll down the other side of the hill and that our perseverance has been rewarded.


Editor's Note:  Ronald T. Clemmons is the Convener of the EPF Death Penalty Abolition Action Group. He is a member of St. Paul's-Murfreesboro (TN) Chapter.

DPIC Issues Hopeful 2013 Annual Report

Death Penalty Information Center
     The Death Penalty Information Center issued its 2013 annual report in December detailing significant statistics affecting the death penalty in the past twelve months. The previous year's report contained some positive news nationwide on the efforts to banish executions. 
     Among the findings:
  • executions dropped by almost 10% from 2012, from 43 to 39  
  • executions occurred in only 9 states in 2013
  • at least 33 stays of executions were granted in 2013; no clemencies were awarded
  • the number of death sentences in 2013 is a 75% reduction since the mid-1990'
  • the total number of people on death row has decreased every year since 2001
     The latest Gallup poll notes that support for the death penalty among Americans stands at 60%, the lowest percentage in forty years.
     The entire report is available at The Death Penalty In 2013: Year End Report.

Bostonians Do Not Favor Death For Alleged Bomber

     The court has set January 31 as the deadline for Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether to seek the death penalty for alleged "Boston Bomber", Dzokhar Tsarnaev.    
Eric Holder
     In November the EPF National Executive Council petitioned the Attorney General to spare the life of the 20 year old native of Chechnya for his alleged part in making pressure-cooker bombs that killed three people and wounded 260 on April 15, 2012, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
     The Boston Globe commissioned a survey asking if Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty if convicted. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents favored life without parole, while only thirty-three percent favored the death penalty.
     In a related issue, the Boston Bar Association, with over 10,000 members, issued a statement on January 7 that the organization opposed
the death penalty in federal cases. This decision was inline with the organization position on the use of the death penalty in state cases.


     Everyone is urged to contact AG Holder immediately and ask him to not seek the death penalty. Sample letters are available, but feel free to alter them. Do not argue the merits of the case, but give your opinions on why you oppose the death penalty. 


     Given the shortness of time, send your letter to AG Holder's e-mail. Also, send a CC of your note to Attorney General Holder's two aides, who will be part of the decision-making: and


     Please act today! 

         Reading The Signs Is Critical In 2014 Elections     

     Cultures throughout history have attempted to divine the future through various methods: astrology, oracles, tea leaves and even chicken entrails. Jesus was asked by both his followers and critics to show them a sign to validate his claims.

      Abolitionists need to read signs too, but newspapers and other media should be the oracle. Too many "little signs" are surfacing that portent concerted action against death row inmates in this election cycle. In most states, all seats in the entire House of Representatives are up for election and up to one-half of the Senate, so the politicians need to be watched closely.
    It appears that the lives of prisoners may be used as a cheap reelection gambit. In the past few weeks, the following "signs" have occurred:
  • Tennessee- Attorney General asks Supreme Court to set execution dates for 10 men
  • North Carolina- Repealed law that allowed inmates to question race in conviction
  • Alabama- Attorney General calls for expedited appeals process for swifter justice
  • Tennessee- Lt. Governor writes article calling for speedy executions 
  • Ohio- In court to justify new drug cocktail to kill death row inmates
  • Missouri- Using a company not federally licensed to compound drugs for executions 
     Similar events are occurring in other states, raising the likelihood of an organized effort to make executions a part of the upcoming election cycle. It's still ten months until the election--stay vigilant!