Monday, June 14, 2010

Death Penalty Activism: Narrow Coalitions

I've been thinking about the terrific meeting of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty last Saturday. One of the most remarkable thing about the meeting was the presence of unexpected and very welcome allies: Families of victims and law enforcement agents. It was an amazing thing to see people who we are used to think of as punitive reject the zeitgeist on behalf of really considering, in depth, the meaning of supporting or objecting the death penalty. These two groups are so valuable and important that they made me think about framing questions and goals, and the challenges involved in doing so.

In his opening remarks, Senator Mark Leno mentioned that the death penalty was not a necessary factor in ensuring public safety. After all, he said, we can lock up violent criminals for life without possibility of parole. I wonder if this position is substantive or strategic. After these remarks, it was interesting to see that, beyond the wall-to-wall objection to the death penalty, there was no consensus on other, broader perspectives on crime and punishment. Some of the activists (including yours truly) felt rather uncomfortable with this narrow definition of what is wrong with the correctional system. The answer to crime lies, perhaps, not in simply substituting the death penalty with a wholesale system of LWOP. However, framing the struggle for human rights as an issue pertaining to ALL corrections, not just the death penalty, might mean the loss of victims and their family, as well as of law enforcement entities. It's really a tough one.

No comments: