As the 39th Annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association held its Opening Ceremony the evening of June 22, 2000, Gary Graham was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas, the 222nd person to be executed in Texas since that state reinstated the death penalty eighteen years ago, and the 135th person to be executed in that state in the past five years. Gary Graham, an African American, was convicted of murder nineteen years ago, as a teenager, on the testimony of a single witness. Multiple appeals were filed on his behalf at state and federal levels. They were repeatedly denied. Graham did not go gently to his death. Claiming innocence to the end, he fought legally, physically, spiritedly. Malcolm X was the inspiration for his final words: "There'll be one hundred more years of lynching unless we do something fast and by any means necessary." The State of Tennessee, on April 19, 2000, carried out the death penalty for the first time in forty years. There is reason to fear that, having broken this precedent, Tennessee will move forward rapidly in capital punishment cases.
Since the death penalty was declared constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1976, the number of states exercising the death penalty and the number of prisoners executed have increased yearly. A similarly increasing number of religious and secular organizations, as well as public officials, have questioned the fairness of the death penalty.
A moratorium on executions in Illinois was recently issued by the Governor of that state. Too many capital convictions had been overturned to permit his conscience to stay clear if one more person took that long walk.
Holding capital punishment as inconsistent with human life on account of its retributive, discriminatory, and non-deterrent character, General Assemblies of the Unitarian Universalist Association have opposed capital punishment restoration or continuance in any form (1961, 1966, 1974, and 1979).
How much longer will we, as a nation aspiring to democracy and fair play, condone capital punishment? How much longer will we, as a nation aspiring to liberty and justice for all, condone the ultimate loss of liberty for so many, whose numbers include a disproportionate percentage of persons of color?
As a community of faith promoting justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, we call for an end to the death penalty. The 2000 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association urges
- the Governor of the State of Tennessee to commute all existing death sentences;
- governors of all other states to similarly commute death sentences and to prevent the restoration or continuance of capital punishment in any form; and
- its member congregations to engage actively in efforts to eliminate the death penalty, to work with other organizations in this effort, and to increase efforts to persuade governors to forego capital punishment.