Black faith leaders, lawmakers, push to end death penalty


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A coalition of Black ministers, lawmakers and national activists announced a new effort Tuesday to abolish the death penalty in Ohio, citing growing bipartisan opposition and the country’s recent reckoning over racial injustice.

The death penalty is a modern cousin to lynching, with people of color disproportionately sentenced to death, said members of the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus and the Ohio Council of Churches. They also pointed to the March abolition of the death penalty in Virginia, the first southern state to do so.

Numerous abolition bills have come and gone in the Ohio General Assembly in past years, including some bipartisan efforts. But today’s environment is different, as cumulative calls by constituents for abolition are reaching members of both parties, said Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat.

“You can look at very liberal Democrats and very conservative Republicans who are saying the same thing,” Howse said. “I feel like we have just the synergy at this time in history.”

Abolishing the death penalty in Ohio would be “a decisive move” toward racial justice, Jennifer Pryor, an organizing director at Ohioans to Stop Executions, said in a statement.

“In a moment when our entire country is grappling with our racist past and present, Ohio has a chance to lead,” Pryor said.

In February, a coalition of Democratic and Republican state lawmakers announced new bipartisan bills to end executions. GOP lawmakers cite the cost to taxpayers of years of appeals, the lack of available lethal injection drugs, and the danger of executing an innocent person. A similar bipartisan effort last year was unsuccessful.

In January, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law banning the execution of the severely mentally ill, including killers diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or delusional disorder at the time of their crimes. Death penalty opponents point to that law as an example of changing anti-capital punishment sentiment.

In the meantime, Ohio remains under an unofficial death penalty moratorium. DeWine said in December that lawmakers must choose a different method of capital punishment than lethal injection before any inmates can be put to death in the future, and added that it’s “pretty clear” there won’t be any executions this year.

Before and after that, DeWine has continued to delay multiple executions.

No executions are scheduled this year, and while nine are scheduled in 2022, it’s unlikely they’ll be carried out because of Ohio’s lack of lethal drugs.

The state’s last execution was July 18, 2018, when Ohio put to death Robert Van Hook for killing David Self in Cincinnati in 1985.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press

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