I am a conservative millennial who works to end the death penalty, and I have witnessed incredible change on the issue in recent years. Millennials deserve some of the credit. As the largest generation in our country, we are coming of age and having an impact. So are the growing African-American and Hispanic populations, who have suffered disproportionately from America’s failed system of capital punishment.
The number of Americans who support the death penalty dropped seven percentage points this past year alone according to Pew Research Center. The only age group with a majority opposed to capital punishment were those under 30, and African-Americans and Hispanics each showed growing majorities against it.
There are many reasons for this shift away from the death penalty, not the least of which is the criminal justice system’s racial bias. Numerous reports, such as the recent studies by Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, show the death penalty being used disproportionately against people of color. This reality casts strong doubts over capital punishment’s legitimacy.
Additionally, there is the death penalty’s innocence problem. In the past 40 years, 156 individuals have been released from death rows across the country because of wrongful convictions. As long as we have the death penalty, there is a very real possibility of the state killing innocent people.
Simply knowing I am a conservative and devoting my career to this cause should tell you how capital punishment is viewed differently in today’s America. Like other conservatives, I favor a limited government. For me, giving an imperfect state the power to kill its own people crosses a line. As a fiscal conservative, I am appalled at the exorbitant cost of the death penalty compared to life without parole. It is the epitome of big government. Finally, as a conservative Christian, I believe in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.
I firmly believe a bedrock principle of our legal system is that law must be blind and treat all equally. How race continues to play a role in who receives the death penalty is unacceptable to me. There should be no political labels when it comes to righting our society’s wrongs. We are all Americans and there should be no distinctions.
Yes, times are changing. Millennials like me are breaking the rules. Conservatives are now working with communities of color on issues of mutual concern. Taken together – the largest generation ever, combined with growing minority populations and the accelerating pace of change – the death penalty’s future in America is bleak. Let’s end it.
Photo by Delmonti
Heather Beaudoin is a national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a project of EJUSA. Heather previously worked for the Montana Abolition Coalition, the Helena Pregnancy Resource Center, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Michigan Republican Senate Majority Leader.