The forthcoming issue of Practical Matters (Issue 5: Violence and Peace, release date May 4, 2012), features my interview with the Reverend Raphael G. Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA, the home church of Martin Luther King, Jr. In our extended conversation, entitled “Troy Davis Still Matters,” the Rev. Warnock reflects on his advocacy on behalf of the recently executed Troy Davis (see here for a timeline of the case, here for a lament, and here for a rebuttal), the role religious-based activism can play in bringing about social transformation, and his own moral and religiously-grounded objection to capital punishment.
The timing of our interview is especially prescient given the recent news that the state of Connecticut is on the verge of abolishing the death penalty. That would make them the fifth state in five years to do so and the seventeenth (17th) state with no capital punishment. The most persuasive argument against the death penalty seems to be the fear that an innocent person may be executed. But the Rev. Warnock’s objection extends beyond even that.
In this video clip, the Rev. Warnock argues that the American criminal justice system is too rife with errors and human frailty to be entrusted with the ultimate form of punishment. In particular, the contradictions and complications in the way capital punishment is sought after and administered in the United States (i.e. minority defendants of white victims and poor defendants are more likely to face capital punishment charges) make the use of capital punishment in American society a social justice, not just a criminal justice issue. Though I imagine the Rev. Warnock would be against the death penalty even if we were guaranteed that the criminal justice system worked flawlessly, the fact that it absolutely doesn’t ought to be cause enough for us to celebrate Connecticut’s decision to no longer return an eye for an eye.
Jermaine M. McDonald
Co-Managing Editor, Practical Matters Journal