In response to the 1000th execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement noting, " … in our continued practice of capital punishment, we diminish our nation."
Pelavin: … in our continued practice of capital punishment, we diminish our nation.
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Washington, December 2, 2005 -– In response to the 1000th execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
Today’s somber milestone is a tragic reminder of one of our country’s greatest moral and social shortcomings. The execution of Kenneth Lee Boyd early this morning reminds us of the one thousand times the government has taken a human life.
Justice has long been a centerpiece of American values, beginning with our belief in the principle of innocent until proven guilty, the use of juries and the rights maintained by those accused of a crime. These values have served as an example to other societies that have sought to emulate our practices. Yet in our continued practice of capital punishment, we diminish our nation.
In the face of studies that tell us of the racial and social biases inherent in the death penalty and that the death penalty simply does not work as a deterrent to crime, we turn a blind eye and continue to execute the convicted. Over half of the inmates currently on death row are black or Hispanic. Still more are poor and unable to afford adequate legal representation during trial. In a nation that prides itself on liberty and justice, it is an outrage that the underprivileged are forced to suffer the ultimate penalty of death because of inadequate legal representation. We should not condone a system that disproportionately sentences minorities and the underprivileged to death.
Upon the exoneration of each death row inmate, 122 of whom have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged, we remain stubborn in our application of capital punishment. As we remember the one thousand lives that have been taken by the state, we question how many could have been saved through better use of technology and DNA testing. We question how many of these one thousand men and women were, in fact, innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.
As we consider the 1,000 executions over the last 32 years, we are reminded of the Mishnah’s teaching that a Sanhedrin, a Rabbinic high court, that puts one person to death in seven years is called destructive. What, then, could we call our justice system, but unjust? In light of today’s sorrowful milestone, we renew our call for the abolition of the death penalty.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism , whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis , whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.