“We sentence innocent people to their deaths.”
Andrea Woods is a Program Assistant for Witness to Innocence.
It is Death Penalty Awareness Week, and supporters of human rights across the country have turned their attention to a uniquely complicated injustice – the implementation of capital punishment in the United States. I applaud the excellent work being done by communities of faith, student organizations, and concerned citizens around this issue; I am a firm believer that the more education that takes place around the death penalty, the more difficult it becomes to support.
For many reasons the death penalty is an egregious violation of human rights. It is utilized in a manner that is racially-discriminatory and targets those who are poor, marginalized, and systematically vulnerable. It instigates cruelty, violence, and suffering in the name of justice. And it denies human beings the opportunity for the redemption, forgiveness, and healing in an ultimate way.
And we sentence innocent people to their deaths.
Since the 1976 national upholding of capital punishment laws, there
have been 139 people that were wrongfully convicted and condemned to
execution for a crime they did not commit. That’s 139 stories of trauma
and torture. They are 139 stories of cruelty and suffering, of human
error when the stakes were most critical. That number – 139 -
represents one innocent person for every 8 executions carried out in
I work to support these very people through an
organization called Witness to Innocence. Witness to Innocence is
composed of exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones -
people who’ve demonstrated more grace, resilience, and tenacity than I
knew possible. This organization has dual missions: to provide a
peer-support network for the innocent exonerees and their families, as
well as to educate the American public about the reality of wrongful
convictions at the highest level. For years our witnesses have been
sharing their stories with student groups, communities of faith,
law-makers, and other audiences across the country. These testimonies
have an unprecedented way of transforming people’s perspective on the
issue of capital punishment. As we like to say, they bring a human face
to an issue that most of us would otherwise only consider
Through my connection to Witness to Innocence, I’ve heard the most
extraordinary – and true – stories. I’ve slammed, full-speed, into that
realization that our criminal justice system is nauseatingly cruel and
unfair. And yet, every time I want to resign myself to the immense
complexity of this problem, I am given a demonstration of hope by the
members of Witness to Innocence. Despite what they’ve been subjected
to, these men continue to march forward in the struggle for freedom and
justice. Even though it’s painful, they continue to speak out about
their experiences. Rather than succumbing to the paralysis of
bitterness, these men make themselves available to the anti-death
penalty community as a uniquely powerful voice for change.
Please visit our website, www.witnesstoinnocence.org,
to learn more about our partnership with Amnesty International’s Death
Penalty Awareness Week, and to consider hosting an event in your
community with one of our witnesses.
Even after the official week of action comes to a close, may we all continue in the fight for peace, empathy, and justice!