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  • Doug Tjapkes

Federal executions/Silence from people of faith!

I have a question for my fellow believers: Why the silence on federal executions? Readers of this column know that I really try to avoid political issues, and when I as much as dip my toe into the political mud puddle, I hear about it. But when it comes to the death penalty, the gloves come off. Here’s what has quietly been going on, with little publicity, and certainly little comment from religious sources (except the Catholics!): -Since July, when it resumed carrying out the death penalty after a 17-year hiatus, the present administration has executed eight federal inmates. -The Justice Department plans to execute five more inmates before the next President, who opposes the death penalty, takes office. (The only woman on federal death row, Lisa Montgomery, who is a mentally ill victim of sex trafficking, is scheduled to be executed just 8 days before the inauguration!) -A new rule published by the Justice Department will allow the use of different methods permitted by states, including firing squads and electrocution, for federal executions. What the ...? And we’re doing nothing? Saying nothing? I had a memorable experience in 2003, during the early days of my prison advocacy. Then Governor George Ryan of Illinois was guest speaker at an Innocence Network Conference. After Innocence Projects proved that some people on Illinois death row had been wrongly convicted, Ryan got his belly full and commuted the death sentences of all 167 prisoners! I rode with him on the hotel elevator following that presentation. “It felt like I was tossing a coin to see if he was guilty or innocent,” he said, “and I just couldn’t do it.” Five years later, I would personally witness the execution of a friend, a young man of color who claimed wrongful conviction, put to death by the State of Texas. That solidified my feelings on the topic. The Catholic Mobilizing Network puts it this way: The death penalty violates both the Church’s pro-life teaching and the teaching on the inherent dignity of the human person as created in the image and likeness of God. But even if, as a fellow believer, you take issue with that position, even if you claim biblical evidence favors the death penalty, you must still deal with the failings of our judicial system. For example: Since 1973, 172 people on death row were released, having been found INNOCENT! This country still permits the execution of the severely mentally ill! Death penalty cases show a huge history of racial disparity! My church won’t take a stand like this, but the Catholics will, and so will I: We cannot build a culture of life with a federal government that puts people to death.

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