By Kate Kendell
I grew up in Utah with a Dad who in 1968 voted for virulently racist Alabama Governor George Wallace for President. My dad owned guns, supported the death penalty, embraced white supremacy, and told racist jokes for fun.
When I came to political consciousness in my early teens, my Dad and I routinely clashed. I had the benefit of one or two amazing public school teachers during this time who exposed me to the lives and writings of Fredrick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Chief Joseph, Sojourner Truth, Abigail Adams, and others who wrote about oppression and injustice and strove for a better nation. I came to believe that my dadâ€™s world view was corrosive, cramped, and demeaning - not just to the objects of his bile, but to him and our family. All this was years before my coming to consciousness as a lesbian.
In some ways my â€ścoming out,â€ť when I was a young teen, as a person committed to NOT following my fatherâ€™s example, made it easier to come out as a lesbian some six years later. Because my sense of justice and fairness and decency had been honed in the context of race and gender, the whole issue of sexual orientation seemed like a natural partner to these issues. Racial bigotry was wrong, sexism was wrong, and homophobia was wrong. It all made sense; we were all in the struggle to win freedom together.
This frame - that all struggles for freedom from oppression are linked and even intertwined - has always been a key part of the work of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). This frame is why we felt deeply the insult to justice in the execution last week of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia. There were many prominent voices, of all political stripes, who opposed the execution of Mr. Davis, convicted of murdering an off duty police officer some 20 years ago despite the lack of any physical evidence linking Davis to the shooting. In the years since his conviction, a number of witnesses at his trial recanted their testimony. While the ultimate innocence of Mr. Davis is shrouded, there was surely enough doubt surrounding his guilt to render his execution a travesty of â€śjustice.â€ť
In Texas in 1992, Cameron Todd Willingham was found guilty of intentionally setting a fire that killed his three children. This is a harrowing case, made all the more tragic because experts now agree that the fire was accidental and that Willingham, executed in 2004, was innocent. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in the US in 1976, 138 innocent men and women have been freed from death row. We do not know for certain how many innocent men and women have been killed, but surely the number is greater than our national conscience should bear. We are a community seeking to have our dignity and humanity acknowledged and protected. We demand full equality, freedom, and fairness. That full equality cannot come in a nation that executes the innocent or even possibly innocent.
And regardless of guilt how are we uplifted as a society when we take life as punishment? NCLR has been of record for years as an opponent of the death penalty. My own opposition was cemented when I worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a staff attorney for the ACLU of Utah when I saw up close the imperfections in our justice system. It is now beyond serious dispute that the death penalty is no deterrent to those contemplating crimes and exacts a staggering toll, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars more than the option of a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Given that the death penalty is no deterrent and costs more than other options, we are left with retribution and vengeance as the prime justifications for supporting state-sanctioned killing. When we think of the kind of nation we all want to live in, a nation which elevates vengeance and retribution as worthy justifications for executing its citizens will not be high on anyoneâ€™s list. And such a nation will be no friend to LGBT people.
As Sandy and I raise our kids, in our interracial, lesbian-headed household, we place a great premium on our kids valuing justice, kindness, inclusion, and difference. I want them coming to adulthood in a nation that values their parents, celebrates their racial identities, and honors their unique contributions. Such a nation will not be possible until we end state-sanctioned executions.
Please join us in supporting the SAFE California Campaign, to bring to the California voters an initiative to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. Visit www.taxpayersforjustice.org to learn how you can help.