It’s time for Virginia to end the death penalty
By David Swanson
The death penalty’s slow death is accelerating. At least 140 nations no longer use it. No nation in Europe uses the death penalty. No nation in the Western Hemisphere uses it, except the United States.
Twenty-nine U.S. states have banned capital punishment or imposed a moratorium, and most of the rest have effectively stopped using it.
Virginia, the northernmost east-coast state with the death penalty, has not sentenced anyone to death in over 8 years. Virginia’s death row holds only three men, all of whose sentences are facing challenges in court, meaning that the death row could soon be emptied out without anyone being killed.
The last time Virginia executed a man was in 2017. Now that man’s victim’s daughter is speaking out for abolition of the death penalty.
A lawsuit is currently seeking to compel Virginia to make more of the execution process visible to witnesses, meaning that the state may soon have to choose between ending this barbarism or displaying it publicly.
Virginia’s voters have just given the Democratic Party the majority in both houses of the state legislature for the first time in decades — decades during which the excuse for every foot-dragging failure has been “But the Republicans . . . .”
Now might be a good time for Virginia to outgrow the idea that killing people teaches people not to kill people.
There is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime.
The death penalty, even if never imposed, is used by prosecutors to bully people — some of them innocent of any crime — into plea agreements.
Since 1973, over 165 people have been exonerated and removed from death row in the United States. An unknown number of innocent people have been executed. Virginia came within days of executing a man named Earl Washington Jr., who was fully exonerated, but whose innocence had always been apparent to anyone who bothered to read the transcript of his original trial.
A commission set up by Virginia’s own government found 19 years ago that a person was more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death in Virginia when the victim was white than when the victim was black — a basis for killing people that few are eager to publicly defend. In fact, the commission sought to explain this disparity away on the basis of other factors, such as the “character” of the victim. But is that any better a basis for killing people?
The financial cost of exhausting appeals and executing someone far outstrips the cost of prison, which far outstrips the cost of a top-quality education.
The death penalty not only teaches that killing is acceptable, but also teaches that senseless retribution is the framework for lesser punishments. This drives the entire justice system away from restitution, restorative justice, and rehabilitation.
Much of the world and the world’s governments condemn the death penalty as a gross violation of human rights. For this reason, the U.S. government is sometimes unable to extradite people charged with crimes. For the same reason, the U.S. government struggles in efforts to recommend better human rights practices to others.
A majority of U.S. states have now set a good example for the nation as a whole. Virginia needs to get on the right side of history.
Democrats claimed for years and years that electing them would make a difference. Let’s see it.
If you live in Virginia, email your Delegate, Senator, and Governor here.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.
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