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WASHINGTON, DC – Witness to Innocence (WTI), a U.S. based organization led by exonerated death row survivors, along with Catholic, Civil Rights groups, and political leaders, held a press conference Tuesday, December 13, 2022 at the National Press Club to call on U.S. President Joe Biden to support the UN’s “Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty.” The resolution is due for a vote on December 15 at the 77th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
“If the state of Ohio had its way, I wouldn’t be here to have this conversation,” said 65-year-old Kwame Ajamu, President of Witness to Innocence. At 17, he was arrested, charged and convicted for a murder he didn’t commit. He spent decades on death row before being exonerated.
“Let us get this death penalty abolition in motion,” Ajamu said.
Death penalty abolitionists urge concerned residents to contact the White House at 202.456.1111 (open between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
In November, a majority of countries with the United Nations voted in favor of the draft resolution for a universal moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The resolution was adopted by 126 UN member states while 37 countries voted against it (including the U.S.), 24 abstained, and six did not take part in the vote.
Death penalty abolitionists urge Biden to switch “no” vote
In defending the November “no” vote, the United States released a statement saying countries should instead work to make sure the death penalty is equitable.
“We strongly urge Member States to ensure that they cannot apply capital punishment in an extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary manner. Capital defendants must be provided a fair trial before a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law, with full fair trial guarantees,” the U.S. released in a statement on Nov. 11.
Yet the U.S. implementation of the death penalty, both on the state and federal level, has been handed down in an arbitrary and racially biased manner since its inception.
“Throughout history, Black people have been routinely put to death for offenses for which White individuals received lesser punishments, have been more likely to be executed as juveniles, and have been less likely to have their death sentence convictions reviewed by higher courts than their White counterparts,” a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to Pres. Biden stated.
Co-signed by 48 national organizations, the letter urges Biden to change the U.S. vote from “no” to “yes,” or at least to abstain from voting on Dec. 15.
“Still today, stark racial disparities in the application of capital punishment exist. For example, while just 13 percent of the U.S. population is Black, 17 of the 44 individuals remaining on federal death row as of April 2022 — or approximately 38 percent — are Black,” the letter continued.
Groups want U.S. to stop being a hypocrite
President Biden has pledged to work towards ending the death penalty, and Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a moratorium on federal executions in July 2021. Advocates are suggesting supporting the UN resolution is another key step to fulfilling this promise.
To date, 190 innocent people have been exonerated from US death rows since 1973.
“Let’s stop voting with Iran. Let’s stop giving cover to Saudi Arabia. Vote with the other 129 nations that believe the death penalty should be abolished,” former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said at Tuesday’s press conference.
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