Today, there was supposed to be an execution in Texas. But it was cancelled. In fact, the last 10 scheduled executions in Texas have been halted — in Texas.
Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Texas has had 537 executions — that’s over 400 more than any other state. But it has been more than five months since Texas has had an execution — 161 days to be exact. And that’s a record worthy of news. There’s only one other time in the past two decades that the death chamber has been that quiet in Texas.
But what’s happening in Texas reveals something deeper that’s happening all over the country. The death penalty is dying.
Once again this year, the number of executions will drop: It’s the lowest they have been in 25 years. And death sentences are already the lowest they’ve been in 40 years. A recent study of “outlier” counties shows that a mere 16 counties (in a country with more than 3,000 counties) are driving the use of the death penalty in America. So while we can debate whether it is “cruel,” it is certainly too “unusual” to be fair. A zip code should not determine whether someone lives or dies.
This year there have been 15 executions, and all but three of those were in just two states (Texas and Georgia). And all four of the executions still planned for this year are in Texas. Hopefully, Texas will continue its record and cancel these, too.
Most of America has moved on from state-sanctioned killing. But we still have some work to do.
In November, the death penalty will be on the ballot in three states – California, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. We can vote to make the death penalty history. But we can do other stuff too.
The medical community has been largely responsible for stopping executions in North Carolina by refusing to participate, insisting that it is a violation of their oath to “do no harm.” It’s going to take all of us to stop the wheels of death.
We can invite influential leaders and celebrities to “GO PUBLIC” against the death penalty — and join folks like Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, and so many others.
And we need more pastors and faith leaders to be a prophetic voice against execution. Just as Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, and Martin Luther King have showed courageous leadership opposing the death penalty, we need a new generation of abolitionist clergy to rise up as we give the death penalty a final blow.
One of the deeply troubling things I discovered writing my newest book Executing Grace is that the death penalty has succeeded in America because of Christians, not in spite of us. Eighty-five percent of executions in the past 40 years are happening in the Bible belt, as we can see evidenced in Texas and Georgia leading the way this year.
There are four more executions scheduled for 2016, and all of them are in Texas. Let’s keep praying and working for all of them to be cancelled — and for an end to the death penalty in America.
Let’s all find a way to get in the way of death — and put our voice, our vote, our bodies in the way of the machinery of death until we make the death penalty history, once and for all.