South Dakotans for 
Alternatives to the Death Penalty

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  • 31 Oct 2012 4:28 PM | Travis Schulze (Administrator)

    Our friends at South Dakota Peace & Justice posted this to their blog A Mighty Flood of Justice today, and we thought it was worth sharing...


    [Note: the following speech was delivered at the vigil, led by the South Dakota Peace & Justice Center, Pax Christi SD, and South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, for the execution of Donald Moeller at the SD State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, SD on 30 October, 2012.]


    We are gathered here at the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls tonight because, for the second time in two weeks, in the buildings behind us, the State of South Dakota is about to kill a man.


    There is no doubt of Donald Moeller’s crime: he has freely admitted to the brutal rape and murder of 9-year-old Becky O’Connell in 1990. The crime against Becky was horrendous – none of us would argue that. Nor would we argue that the requirements of justice demand a response to such a heinous act. We in no way seek to sanction or minimize the wrong Becky’s mother Tina Curl and her family have suffered.

    At the same time, study after study shows that the death penalty cannot be justified on grounds of deterrence or incapacitation. We think of our friends in California tonight, who are close to passing Proposition 34, which would end a costly and pointless capital punishment system that costs them $134 million a year. Eight-eight percent of criminologists believe that death is no better deterrent than life in prison. We are here tonight because we know that the death penalty system is broken, and that it needs to end.


    But there are more important issues at stake tonight than differences of political opinion. We are talking tonight about life and death: the death of Becky O’Connell, and soon enough the death of Donald Moeller.


    We are here tonight because we believe that violence committed by the state, whether it takes the form of an execution or a war, violates fundamental ethical principles of a civilized, compassionate society. We believe that in the effort to create a peaceful society, love has greater power than vengeance.


    We believe that though the State of South Dakota may have the legal authority to kill, it does not  have the moral authority. We gather because we need our neighbors and the world to know that what will happen across the street tonight is Not In Our Name.


    This vigil is a time for song, a time for prayer, a time for silent reflection, and a time for solidarity with all victims of violence and respect for life in all its forms. We empathize with the grief of Becky O’Connell’s family, the incredible hurt and anger they must feel. We stand with them in their desire to see justice done. But we cannot believe that the taking of yet another life serves the cause of justice.


    In the words of a great man, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


    In the words of another great man, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”


    –Tom Emanuel is the Executive Director of the South Dakota Peace & Justice Center

  • 29 Oct 2012 8:54 AM | Travis Schulze (Administrator)
    [Note: this piece appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. It was written by Rosalie Little Thunder, a Sicangu Lakota, environmental activist, and board member of the South Dakota Peace & Justice Center.]

    When I ponder different challenges facing us as people, the memory of my grandfather’s or one of my parents’ voices visits my consciousness to help me. This time, concerning the heavy concept of the death penalty, it is grandfather’s voice I remember. “Tokic’unpi sni yo. Tuwa taku sica waecun hantans toksa okaksan ku na he wankiglakin ktelo. Toyec’unpi hantans takuskanskan kuseyatunpi na niye ca he yak’inpi ktelo,” he said, perhaps half a century ago. In terms of human history, that wasn’t that long ago. He was born in 1895 and was a window to the cosmology of the ancestors.

    In my weaker English translation, he said, “Do not seek vengeance. Whosoever does bad, eventually, it will turn back around and he will realize the consequence. If you avenge yourself, you will interfere with spiritual justice and therefore, you will carry the burden.”


    I didn’t take that to mean that we shouldn’t have laws and consequences. There are those whose consciences don’t work, are a danger and should be locked up. However, for human beings to reach the point of having such authority over life and death, I believe, is overstepping our bounds into the realm of spiritual justice.


    There is a song about being Lakota, that it is a hardship. Lakotapi ki otehike. It doesn’t mean that we are born into poverty as lesser beings. It does mean that to be a true Lakota, you must strive for a higher order of discipline. It means that you must be quiet and humble when your ego wants to cut loose, that you look out for your relatives when your time is short and your bank account is grim. Further back, in my grandfather’s and ancestors’ days, it meant that when someone took a life, then he must assume that person’s relationships and responsibilities. Can you even imagine that?


    I cannot even begin to understand the anguish of the victims’ families. It must be horrendous. I mean no disrespect to them, but would it be more merciful to put someone to death than to be imprisoned for life? When someone loses a child or another loved one to horrible violence, that in itself must be hell, but to be given an opportunity to influence or participate in an execution is something that should not compound the anguish.


    I’ve asked my family that if my life were ever taken, then I do not want the death penalty for my life-taker. I would not want to contribute to the deterioration of human integrity. I would not wish that upon my family. I would wish for them to forgive and live in peace.
  • 19 Oct 2012 7:55 AM | Travis Schulze (Administrator)
     Our friends at the South Dakota Peace & Justice Center posted a blog entry about the recent execution of Eric Robert. We thought it was worth sharing:

    Reflections on an Execution

    "Last night, October 15th, the state of South Dakota put Eric Robert to death.


    "Robert’s case was not clouded by questions of possible innocence, of the exculpatory DNA evidence that comes too late. There was no chance that the state was about to kill an innocent man: Robert pleaded guilty to his crime of murdering a prison guard in a botched escape attempt from the SD State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. Neither was race a concern in this case: Robert was pretty clearly white.


    "In short, many of the perennial questions that surround capital punishment were absent. In the wake of Robert’s execution, we are faced with a single stark question, unencumbered by procedural concerns: does the state have the right to kill? ..."


    For the rest, see the SDPJC's blog, A Mighty Flood of Justice.


    Let us not let this execution discourage us, but rather spur us on in the cause of abolishing the death penalty in South Dakota once and for all.

  • 29 Apr 2012 11:38 AM | Travis Schulze (Administrator)
    The National Research Council released a report this month titled Deterrence and the Death Penalty. It acknowledges the many studies concerning the deterrent effect of the capital punishment and the widely differing results of these studies. Some studies have found that use of the death penalty decreases the murder rate, some have found that it has no effect, and others have even found that it increases the murder rate.

    The primary conclusion of this report, which neither supports or opposes the death penalty as public policy, is that the research to date is not informative about whether the death penalty decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates. Its opinion is that "these studies should not be used to inform deliberations requiring judgments about the effect of the death penalty on homicide rates."

    The report finds that these studies are all statistically flawed, do not consider the deterrence effect of alternative punishments, and use incomplete or implausible models of potential murders' perceptions of and response to the use of capital punishment.

    The report only strengthens the common sense argument that potential murderers are often do not know whether their state has or uses the death penalty, and are even more unlikely to know the specifics of the state's capital punishment system and make an objective decision about whether the risk of execution outweighs the desire to commit the crime.

    For now, this report says that recent research should not be used to make public policy decisions concerning the death penalty and it negates the validity of the argument that the deterrent effect of the death penalty will reduce crime rates.
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