This article first appeared in the June-July 2016 issue of The Oklahoma Peace Strategy News.
Article compiled from information provided by the Think Twice Oklahoma campaign.
The death penalty is on the ballot in at least three states in November: California, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Here, a state question asks to add the death penalty to the Oklahoma constitution and stipulate that existing death sentences will remain valid even if the current form of execution is invalidated or otherwise changed. If passed, the Constitutional provision SQ 776 would amend the Bill of Rights within the Oklahoma constitution, resulting in death sentences being harder to overturn, even if the punishment mandated is found to be cruel or unusual.
The campaign to defeat this state question in Oklahoma is just starting up. For the next few months, your work on this issue could make a significant impact.
The ballot question is an unprecedented opportunity to educate the full spectrum of Oklahoma voters about the failures of the death penalty as a public policy. The “Think Twice” campaign to defeat Oklahoma State Question 776 can help future in-state anti-death penalty and sentencing reform efforts by demonstrating far less-than-expected support for capital punishment.
That means peace workers in Oklahoma have a terrific opportunity to help move the bar nationally regarding capital punishment with the campaign to defeat State Question 776.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for those of us with an innate opposition to the death penalty will be in coalescing with those who may support capital punishment in theory, but who disagree with the need for SQ 776. There will also be coalition partners who come to their opposition to the death penalty from different perspectives, and with whom we do not agree on other major issues of the day. The important thing is that we unite based upon that which we agree, and work together toward the common goal.
Rev. Don Heath, president of the Think Twice campaign notes that other criminal justice reforms are also being questioned in Oklahoma, such as overly harsh sentences and classifying nonviolent crimes as felonies. But, while efforts for such reform is laudable, he says, “State Question 776 goes the wrong way, The Bill of Rights is intended to limit the power of government, not to justify the most extreme punishment used by government.“
“The death penalty is the crown jewel of retributive justice. It is used to justify harsh sentences at every other level,” Heath says.
The campaign envisions reaching out to those who already oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, and other people who might oppose big government, or be concerned about wrongful executions, among other concerns. Over the summer we will engage in volunteer-driven canvassing and voter outreach at festivals, street fairs and other such opportunities. In September and October, our presence will ramp up with several speaker tours featuring death row survivors, victim family members, conservatives, law enforcement and other non-typical voices of experience on the issue. The more successful we are with fund raising, the more we’ll be able to do.
Please visit ThinkTwiceOK.com or call 800-973-6548 to learn more about the campaign and how you can be involved.