Kevin Abels ’05, the co-coordinator of the Student Coalition to End the Death Penalty, has been interested in capital punishment since he watched the movie “Dead Man Walking” at the age of seven. More than a decade later, Abels decided to act on his interest by helping to create a student group that protests the death penalty.
Abels and co-coordinator Zoe Palitz ’05 started the organization this fall and held the group’s second meeting Sunday night. Abels and Palitz said they decided to create the coalition after hosting the National Week of Student Action to End the Death Penalty — an Amnesty International event — at Yale last year.
“People were really talking about it. It was something on people’s minds,” Palitz said. “This is a critical time for the abolition of the death penalty and the moratorium movement.”
Though currently a provisional member of Dwight Hall, the organization will receive full membership status pending a Dec. 3 vote by the Dwight Hall Student Cabinet. Margo Harrison ’03, the Dwight Hall membership coordinator, said the coalition probably will be supported despite the controversial nature of the death penalty debate.
“I don’t think [controversy] will play much of a role,” Harrison said. “Most of the Dwight Hall Cabinet members believe in student activism.”
The group will be composed of five subcommittees in order to address the issue of the death penalty from many different angles, Palitz said.
There will be an internal education branch to keep group members informed of current developments in the national movement, a campus education program to attract outside speakers, a political action branch devoted to lobbying and petitioning, and a media division to handle publicity and write editorials. In addition, there will be a subcommittee that will present workshops about the death penalty at New Haven middle schools.
Palitz said the Sunday night meeting was designed to “get the members up to speed” and prepare them to answer difficult questions regarding the issue.
Palitz added that people are opposed to the death penalty for two reasons — one of morality and the other of logistics and fairness. Because 90 percent of death row inmates are unable to afford their own attorneys, the inmates are forced to work with public defenders, Palitz said.
“Capital trial lawyers don’t believe that their clients are innocent,” Palitz said. “[They’re known for] falling asleep on the job and coming to work drunk.”
Abels said that even after last year’s attacks on the World Trade Center his opinion on capital punishment has remained the same. He does not believe the terrorists should be executed.
“Even a terrorist is someone not beyond the chance of rehabilitation, especially when civil liberties are being cracked down on,” Abels said.
Agata Kostecka ’06 said she attended Sunday’s meeting because she has been active in Amnesty International for a long time.
“I’m glad to see an active group [devoted to this cause] at Yale,” Kostecka said. “I think it’s an issue in which everyone should be active.”