In a brave move, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber halted the upcoming execution of death-row inmate Gary Haugen. The execution was to be carried out Dec. 6 and would have been Oregon’s first in 14 years. Kitzhaber did not stop there—he also announced a state moratorium on executions. Calling the state’s death penalty system “broken,” the governor declared that executions would not be performed while he was in office.
Kitzhaber clearly recognizes what many have known for years: capital punishment is applied unfairly and there is too much room for error.
Additionally, the death penalty works disproportionately against minorities, specifically African-Americans, who get executed at rates much higher than our share of the population.
There has been a resurgence in the anti-death penalty movement, renewed by the injustice of the recent Troy Davis execution. Davis, a 42-year-old Black man, was executed this past September in Georgia. Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah, Ga., police officer. Although eyewitnesses from Davis’ original trial recanted or changed their testimony, he was never awarded a new trial.
Davis’ execution refueled a fight that many average Americans had grown ambivalent about. With so much doubt surrounding his guilt, it was unthinkable that the state of Georgia would carry out the execution. That reality struck a nerve with many around the country. Perhaps it’s because many of us are aware that, in recent years, dozens of death row inmates have been exonerated after DNA evidence proved they were innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. If we can’t be certain of the legitimacy of the convictions, the practice must be halted. One innocent person put to death is too many.
Oregon isn’t the first state to halt executions because of flaws in the system. Illinois Legislature banned the death penalty earlier this year, New Jersey abolished it in 2007 and New Mexico voters abolished it in 2009.
Other states should follow suit. If you live in one of the 34 states that use capital punishment, call and write your state legislators your governor. Ask that they review their death penalty practices and put a halt to the practice. Remind them that research has shown that executions do not deter crime and that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent nationally each year to execute a handful of offenders could be put toward funding schools and crime prevention programs.
You can find the contact information for your elected officials by visiting www.usa.gov.