Organizers held a press conference and roundtable discussion at the state Capitol in conjunction with “World Day Against the Death Penalty.” The group’s members include the American Civil Liberties Union, Catholic Charities and the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.
“We wanted the public to know that there is a group of people who care deeply about this injustice, the racism, the bias and the waste of money that it is,” said Lydia Polley, co-chairwoman of OCADP.
Polley said the group also wants to build a community support system, expose people to what experts say about the system of capital punishment and ultimately see the practice abolished.
right, Edward Weisenburger
One of the speakers at the press conference was Susan Sharp, a professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma. Sharp, who has studied the system and its impact on inmates and families, discussed the exonerations of innocent men on death row in Oklahoma.
“We have had 10 in the state of Oklahoma, but being number four is misleading because we’re much smaller than the first three states,” Sharp said.
Those states — Florida, Texas and Illinois — lead the nation in exonerations since 1973. There have been 138 exonerations in 26 states since that date. Sharp said that makes Oklahoma top in terms of per capita exonerations.
Also speaking at the press confer ence was Stan Basler, a representative from the Oklahoma Council of Churches. Basler, who is an ordained United Methodist elder, said he attended to address the theological terms in which the death penalty is cast.
Some support for capital punishment comes from Jewish and Christian texts like Leviticus 24:19- 21, the famous “eye for an eye” passage. Basler said texts like that need to be understood in light of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, in which he quotes an Exodus passage and then changes the focus to peace and forgiveness.
“The second principle is based on God’s character,” Basler said. “If God is really love, how do you make sense of God favoring this act of violence?” The Monsignor Edward Weisenburger of Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Oklahoma City offered a ministerial and Catholic perspective on the issue. Reminding ministers of their obligation to speak out against the death penalty, Weisenburger said, “Human life in all its stages is sacred.”
Kenny Fikes, co-chairman of OCADP and the group’s spokesman, said all executions are cruel and inhumane, regardless of the method used. He cited numbers from Amnesty International that ranked the U.S. fourth behind China, Iran and North Korea in rate of executions. Oklahoma executed 96 inmates since the year 1976, trailing Texas and Virginia.
Photo by Mark Hancock