New England Yearly Meeting

A community of Quakers and Quaker meetings across New England.

Speaking Against the Death Penalty

Mar 26, 2019

Margaret Hawthorn (Monadnock, NH, Friends Meeting) offered this testimony to the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee on March 26, 2019.

Nine years ago I became part of a group no one wants to join, which is okay, because we don’t want anyone to join us. We are murder victims’ family members.

Some of us believe the death penalty should remain in place. Others would like to see it abolished. Within grieving families, members don’t always agree, which adds to their pain. 

Every victim’s family member has an important contribution to make in the discussion of justice around the taking of human life. We need safe settings in which we can listen to one another respectfully, to allow our broken hearts to unite us rather than our differing opinions to separate us. 

When my daughter was murdered, several newspapers quoted a statement I made that reflected our family’s values. “We will not turn to hatred,” I said. The online community came roaring back.

Here was one comment:

 “If they won’t hate, we will hate for them.”

And here are a few morally equivalent remarks, but these have been made in reference to the death penalty:

“As far as I’m concerned, you can’t hang ‘em high enough.”

“Just takes one bullet. I’ll even donate one so it won’t cost the state anything.”

“I’d volunteer to pull the switch.”

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve come before Senate and House committees to testify either for repeal of the death penalty, or against expanding criteria for its use in our state. The three comments above didn’t come from online. They were all made by New Hampshire legislators, either directly to me or audibly among themselves as I was speaking.  

I urge you not to lose track of the gravity of this discussion. We’re talking about state-sanctioned killing, which calls for as much weighty deliberation as a jury is expected to give any capital murder case.

We say a murderer has blood on his or her hands. When a state executes a prisoner, every adult in the state is responsible for the premeditated killing of  a breathing, living human being. Willingly or not, we all wind up with blood on our hands, starting with elected officials who keep capital punishment on the table.  

Governor Sununu pushed victims’ loved ones into separate camps with his handling of the 2018 veto. His veto was based in part, he said, on taking the feelings of murder victims’ family members into account. Yet he made himself consistently unavailable to listen to family members who oppose capital punishment. 

The Governor then invited family members who favor the death penalty to stand with him at a press conference as he signed his veto. Family members who advocated for repeal were barred from the room. (I’ll note that at least one police officer who supported repeal was also barred.) Regardless of positions taken, by privileging one family group over another, the Governor promoted divisiveness instead of offering compassion and support. 

Should the Governor choose to veto again in the name of victims’ family members, please remember he doesn’t speak for all, and he hasn’t made himself available to hear from those with whom he disagrees.

The death penalty should be a matter of conscience, not politics. If your conscience tells you to vote to abolish, and an override becomes necessary, please stay with your conscience.

 

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends

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