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What Will it Take?

Written by Sister Andrea Koverman, SC

As I write this blog on the Sunday before Ronald Phillips is to be executed, I am filled with dismay and struggle to hold on to the hope that there is still a chance that Governor Kasich will extend mercy and commute Ronald’s sentence to death in prison rather than death by execution. Not because he is not guilty, but in spite of it. In the first reading for today’s Liturgy taken from the book of Wisdom, I am given all the reason I need not to support the death penalty. The author writes of God, “And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

I am committed to the work we do at IJPC because I truly believe in the innate goodness of people. We peacefully challenge the injustices of our time and, in doing so, provide the opportunity for people to become more educated about critical issues, and encourage them to become advocates for change themselves. I cannot accept that well-informed people would support laws, policies and practices, institutions and systems that discriminate and even target the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our communities: the “minorities” of any type, the economically and educationally disadvantaged, the mentally ill, the addicted, and those so damaged by the violence and abuse they have experienced in their own lives that they are capable of the worst atrocities.

That conviction is the motivation for all the work we’ve done to abolish the death penalty in Ohio. We have thrown our hearts and souls, minds and bodies into the effort. Along with equally committed partners at Ohioans to Stop Executions, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and many other individuals and organizations, we have petitioned, called, lobbied, rallied and marched. We’ve written Op-Eds, and Letters to the Editor, hosted panels of experts, followed bills through legislation, amplified the voices of researchers, exonerees, faith leaders, prison staff and murder victim family members all to educate the public to the fact that killing people for killing people is ineffective and wrong from any perspective from which it is viewed.

It is maddening to think of the millions upon millions of dollars that could do so much to help families of violent crime heal and recover to the best of their abilities. Instead, it is wasted putting people to death decades after their crimes have been committed. By that time, they are often very different people, as in the case of Ronald Phillips. It makes society no safer, brings peace to no one-even when they’ve been promised that it would, and does not deter future murders. These misused resources could also do much to address the root causes of violence through increased child protective services, social safety net services, adequate mental health care, counseling, family services, and education.

The most common and compelling defense of capital punishment I encounter is that it exacts the justice that victim family members want. That argument does not hold up, as  reported by LaShawn Ajamu, whose brother was murdered. When only a minuscule fraction of people convicted of murder are ever executed, it cannot be the standard form of justice exacted on behalf of victims’ families. That would mean that there is no justice for all the thousands of others, and that is just not true. Their justice comes with life sentences for those responsible for depriving them of their loved ones. As Ajumu says, to say otherwise boils down to political grandstanding. And to think that we would resort to state-sanctioned homicide for politics is simply nauseating.

Given the state’s apparent disregard of all that’s been said and done to surface the stunning inadequacies and injustices of Ohio’s capital punishment system, educate the public and persuade our legislators to abandon this fruitless and destructive practice, I’m left wondering what it will take to be successful. What else can we do? As time inches ever closer to the hour of execution, I can only take encouragement that the number of people who are withdrawing their support of capital punishment continues to grow and will inevitably reach the point of majority. I am sorry for Ronald and all the others scheduled for execution in the next few years if we failed to reach that point before you fall victim to the death penalty, but I promise that the fight will continue until there is no next victim.