Death penalty abolition advocate Robert Nave said he was furious Tuesday at an Ezra Stiles College Master’s Tea.
“What brought me here today is extreme anger,” Nave said.
Nave, who is executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty and an Amnesty International State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator, spoke to about 20 students at the tea. Throughout the talk, Nave expressed his anger about the federal government and the judicial system.
“Injustice drives me nuts,” he said.
Before beginning his talk, Nave first asked audience members about their opinions regarding the death penalty. The majority said they were against it, but there were also a handful of students who said they were ambivalent or supportive of the death penalty.
Nave said he hoped to convince the ambivalent students to oppose the death penalty and urged students to join in the fight for death penalty abolition. He referred to the book “Dead Man Walking” by Helen Prejean.
“If you cannot push in the needle for the lethal injection or press the button for the electric chair, then you do not truly support the death penalty,” he said.
Nave also described what he perceived as racial and socio-economic bias and economic inefficiency in the death penalty system. He also provided statistics to support his belief that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. In states where the death penalty was applied more often, Nave said, homicide rates are higher, and where the death penalty is applied less frequently, homicide rates are lower.
While Nave said social wrongs in the United States today are the result of complex factors including — but not limited to — the death penalty, he said the abolition of the death penalty could play a part in alleviating social problems.
“It is one of the pieces that could make our society a less violent society,” he said. “If you do not fight against [the death penalty system], then you have blood on your hands too.”
Nave said what he perceived as secrecy and anonymity associated with prisoners’ executions undermines the death penalty’s credibility as a just institution. Some students gasped when he described the penalty in Florida where he said random individuals, who would remain anonymous, were asked to press the button for execution in exchange for $125.
“We need people to join us in this fight of equality that is so, so necessary in this country,” he said. When asked if he was optimistic about the abolition of the death penalty, Nave said he believes the death penalty in Connecticut will be abolished by 2009.
Vanessa Selbst ’05, who said she is against the death penalty, said she found Nave’s talk interesting but unsatisfying in some respects.
“I was disappointed with how he focused on the economic aspects of the death penalty and left things open on the moral aspects,” she said.
But other students said the lecture inspired them.
Hannah Krug ’07 said she found Nave’s talk well-presented and balanced.
“The reason I am here is because this is the cause I care about most,” Krug said. “I was astonished [by] what [Nave] had to say. I knew the situation was bad, but I didn’t know it was so bad.”
Apart from his work to abolish the death penalty, Nave is also a social studies teacher at a high school in Connecticut.