The National Week of Student Action to Abolish the Death Penalty culminated yesterday evening in a talk by an Amnesty International representative and a candlelight vigil on the steps of Dwight Hall.
A series of discussions and campaigns this week — including a Silliman College Master’s Tea, a Social Justice Network dinner and a direct door-to-door campaign on Old Campus — strived to get the issue of capital punishment “on people’s minds.”
“If people think hard enough about the death penalty, they will realize it’s not a good thing for America,” said Zoe Palitz ’05, a coordinator of the week’s activities.
Yesterday’s talk with Robert Nave, Connecticut’s death penalty abolition coordinator, summarized many of Amnesty International’s positions. Nave noted that 98 percent of Americans sentenced to death are unable to afford an attorney, and added that many states still permit minors and the mentally retarded to be put to death. He also listed the execution methods sanctioned by U.S. law: hanging, electrocution, gassing, shooting and lethal injection.
Responding to the common argument that capital punishment deters crime, Nave said that “violence begets violence.”
At the end of the talk, students asked questions and then filed out of the room to hold a candlelight vigil to the sounds of Tangled Up in Blue.
Coordinators Palitz and Kevin Abels ’05 said each of the week’s events was intended to give a different slant on the issue.
A discussion in the Berkeley Bagel Bar, in which each person was given a card with a fact about the death penalty and encouraged to pose questions, kicked off the week and segued into a screening of “Dead Man Walking” in Silliflicks on Monday.
Tuesday’s Silliman College Master’s Tea with Ronald Tabak, a New York lawyer who has done pro bono work and successfully argued a capital punishment case before the U.S. Supreme Court, gave a legal perspective on the fight against capital punishment, while yesterday’s Amnesty International talk with Nave provided tips on activism and “personalized the issue” with a vigil.
Attendance at the week’s events varied: yesterday’s talk in Linsly-Chittenden Hall drew a crowd of about 30, while Tuesday’s Master’s Tea attracted a standing-room-only crowd.
Both Abels and Palitz said the majority of people frequenting the different events were opposed to the death penalty, but they hoped to “encourage in-suite discussion” among students with differing points of view with a direct advertising campaign on Old Campus.
Last Sunday and Monday, Abels and Palitz distributed 12-by-15-inch flags to suites on Old Campus with the execution date of a convict on death row.
Andrew Arons ’05, however, said he is not convinced the death penalty is wrong.
“Once you infringe on someone’s right to live, you give up your own right to live,” Arons said. “But the crime has to be gruesome and the criminal must show no remorse.”
Anti-death penalty activists said they were angry when a banner hung on the Cross Campus gate was torn down Saturday night. In an open letter to the student body, the two coordinators expressed their disappointment.
“What saddens us about [this] incident is that a few individuals chose to destroy rather than to discuss,” the letter said.