Brand new State Representative Hope Whitehead of St. Louis wasn’t even aware of a death penalty moratorium bill until AFSC staff and volunteers walked into her office last month. A former prosecutor who once tried a death penalty case, Rep. Whitehead said she knows there are problems with the death penalty and that a study is needed, but she wasn’t sure about a moratorium.
AFSC’s visit with Rep. Whitehead was part of the annual Moratorium Lobby Day in
Jefferson City, where 150 Missourians shared information and views with legislators on all sides of the difficult issue. AFSC is one of 400 organizations in Missouri that are working for a two-year halt in executions while a study is done. Typically, such studies show that the death penalty costs more than life imprisonment, discriminates against people of color, and threatens the execution of innocent people.
As an organization, AFSC has a long history of opposing the death penalty. Recently, AFSC completed an in-depth listening project to hear the views of African Americans on the subject. (Results are available under the resources section of the St. Louis homepage.)
Faheemah Thabit, who serves as AFSC’s program coordinator in St. Louis, has lost several members of her immediate family to violent crime. When she speaks against the death penalty—including the need for a moratorium while a study takes place—people listen.
Faheemah was joined at the Lobby Day by a number of present and former AFSC volunteers and program committee members, including Ponchita Argieard and Rita Mauchenheimer. What prompted them to hop on the bus to Jefferson City?
Ponchita says, “I participated in the listening project with the African American community about the death penalty, and that was very critical for me.” She adds, “The kinds of problems we see with the death penalty make it an unjust system….The result is devastating for both sides and for our entire community. It’s the wrong way to do it.”
Rita has volunteered with AFSC for many years, collecting signatures calling for justice for Reggie Clemons, who still sits on Missouri’s death row despite considerable doubt about his guilt. “The death penalty is a human rights issue and a justice issue,” Rita says.
AFSC is working to broaden opposition to the death penalty and other forms of injustice, including police brutality and the need for local control of police departments in St. Louis and Kansas City. We work in close cooperation with many other groups, adding our own vision of inclusiveness and respect for all people.
At the end of the productive lobby meeting with Rep. Whitehead, Faheemah promised to send her the results of AFSC’s Listening Project on the Death Penalty. And so we moved one step closer to a death penalty moratorium, one step closer to its abolition, and one step closer to justice.