Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Altering our thinking: What if you support the death penalty in PA?

We abolitionists can get quite frustrated with the state of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Fourth largest death row in the country. Six death row exonerations. A minority death row rate at 70%. The nation's "deadliest DA" in Philadelphia. It's enough to make an abolitionist glum.

But what about supporters of the death penalty? What are they thinking right about now? Death sentences have dropped significantly. There were seven in PA in 2005, in contrast to the 21 given out in 1994. In the entire modern era of the death penalty (post-1978), there have been exactly three executions in the Commonwealth, and they were all for defendants who had given up their appeals. It's been seven years since we had an execution.

Let's face it: As noted last week by the blog of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, we're winning. It doesn't always feel like it. Sometimes it feels down right frustrating. But time and justice are on our side.

Last spring when the PA House was deciding what to do about the death penalty and persons with mental retardation, the Attorney General was lobbying, in person, for the version supported by the District Attorneys, which is opposed by the disabilities community. Think about that: The top attorney in the Commonwealth was walking the halls to lobby for an obscure procedural matter. Why? Because he knows, and the DAs know, that capital punishment is a dying institution in PA. If we had won on this issue, it would be another nail in the coffin of the death penalty, and the AG and the DAs want to do everything they can to stop it.

We're winning.

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