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NJ Senator Delivers Prize-Winning Speech Against Death Penalty

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February 2, 2009

In a speech delivered before the Memorial de Caen International Human Rights Competition in Caen, France, yesterday, New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak said:

The death penalty is a random act of brutality. Its application throughout the United States is random, depending on where the murder occurred, the race and economic status of who committed the murder, the race and economic status of the person murdered and, of course, the quality of the legal defense.

…The worse damage [the death penalty] does is to a society that believes it needs to seek revenge over redemption.

The need for revenge leads to hate and violence. Redemption opens the door to healing and peace. Revenge slams it shut.

A society that turns its back on redemption commits itself to holding on to anger and a need for vengeance in a quest for fulfillment that can not be met by those destructive emotions. Redemption instead opens the door to the space that asks healing questions in the wake of violence: questions of crime prevention, questions of why some human beings put such a low value on life that they readily take it from others, questions that help us understand how to help those impacted by violence; questions that take a back seat, and are often ignored, when our minds and emotions are filled with a need for revenge.

Lesniak was behind New Jersey's repeal of the death penalty in 2007, and author of The Road to Abolition: How New Jersey Abolished the Death Penalty.

His speech also addressed the case of Troy Davis; the ineffectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent; his state's close encounter with executing an innocent man, Byron Halsey; and how the death penalty "exacerbates the pain and suffering of families of murder victims."

It's an incredibly moving speech—congratulations to Senator Lesniak for his prize, which he'll donate to his own anti-death penalty nonprofit, the Road to Justice and Peace.

h/t: Standdown

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