Faith, Death Penalty Focus of NC Virtual Sabbath
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
RALEIGH, N.C. - An online conversation this Sunday will focus on faith with people affected by capital punishment.
Panelists will include George Wilkerson, now living on North Carolina's death row; Andre Smith, who teaches Buddhism to men in prison and lost his son to homicide; and the Rev. Sharon Risher, who lost her mother and two cousins in the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
Noel Nickle, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the state hasn't executed anyone since 2006, but there is no official moratorium on executions.
"And we also look to not just the possibility of executions, but the fact that people are still sentenced to death in our state," she said. "We have a couple of pending capital trials still for 2021."
She also pointed to the stark racial disparity in capital punishment sentencing, citing a study of death penalty trials in North Carolina from 1990 to 2010 that found racial bias tainted sentencing in trials with all-white juries.
Panelist George Wilkerson, who has spent the past 15 years on death row, said he's witnessed others in prison undergo profound transformations, especially when they're guided by their faith.
"And from my personal experience, I've seen it - I've seen it around me," he said. "I see that people can change, that people are redeemable. No matter what they've done."
Jennifer Copeland, executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches said Christians working toward a more just society believe there's a moral imperative for the criminal justice system to serve as an agent of rehabilitation, rather than a vehicle for oppression.
"The reason we're doing this Death Penalty Abolition Sabbath - and it's meant for all faith communities to participate, of course - is to raise awareness about the reality that the death penalty is still on the books in North Carolina," she said.
A Pew poll released in June found that, despite concerns over racial bias in death sentencing and whether it deters crime, a majority of Americans say they favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder. However, 78% of those surveyed believe there is some risk that an innocent person could be put to death.
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