For almost five years I have worked against the death penalty in Pennsylvania. The loss I have experienced in my own life has led me to believe that a government purposefully seeking the death of a person based on a service to vengeance is dangerous and works against our society as a whole.
For almost five years I have worked against the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Traditionally there is one topic I tend to avoid speaking about, and that is the case against Mumia Abu-Jamal.
I do not know exactly what may have happened Dec. 9, 1981, but how could I fault a widow her tears and anger? The loss I have experienced in my own life, though, has led me to believe that a government purposefully seeking the death of a person based on a service to vengeance is dangerous and works against our society as a whole. The purpose of government intervention, I thought, was to end violence, and not to perpetuate it.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said there was no doubt in his mind that Abu-Jamal shot and killed police officer Daniel Faulkner that cold night in 1981, but the family did not want to suffer the time that would go into the new trial and subsequent appeals. “All of this has taken an unimaginable physical, emotional and financial toll on each of us,” Faulkner’s widow Maureen said of the past 30 years dealing with this tragedy without a sense of closure for herself or her family.
My own cousin, Deirdre Johnson, was murdered a decade ago. And I could name countless other murder victims’ family members who oppose the death penalty, because the plight of Maureen Faulkner is not an exception to death penalty cases, it is the rule. There are over 200 people on death row in Pennsylvania, some of them for just as long as Abu-Jamal, leaving so many families to relive a terrible tragedy in their lives through continued appeals. Appeals that are so important, because they have allowed for the exoneration of 139 innocent people in 26 states, people who once faced death for a crime they did not commit.
The resources put toward the death penalty in Pennsylvania and issues with racial and gender bias in trial juries may be studied soon, as the Pennsylvania Senate will be voting on SR 6, a resolution to study the death penalty. According to recent data released from the Penn State Justice Center for Research, Pennsylvania’s death row has cost taxpayers $27 million since 1999. This money could have been put towards services for murder victims’ family members, because since 2007 there have been 1,570 murders in Philadelphia alone.
In a city where a person is murdered almost every day, I am grateful to Maureen Faulkner, a woman who decided to give so much of herself and say the man she believes murdered her husband should live. That must have been a very difficult thing to do, but such mercy can be a legacy, and such a legacy can change the world for the better.
Poet Aja Beech is a Creative Connector and a board member of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. She uses her poetry to mobilize a network of activists aiming to stop capital punishment.