On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee. He was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. They were demonstrating for the right to collectively bargain, and to unionize under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). This year, unions around the country are observing the date by supporting public employees in Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere who are in danger of losing their right to collective bargaining.
Today, we of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) mark this observance by remembering that both victims and municipal employees are ill served by capital punishment, and by supporting the rights of all people, including municipal employees, to organize in their best interests.
Victims who support the death penalty are frustrated by the fact that, while in theory it is designed to produce justice, in practice, it is unreliable, unwieldy, and ineffective. Too often, this same system marginalizes and stigmatizes victims who do not support the death penalty.
Similarly, the heavy burden of actually implementing capital punishment laws and the adverse affects on correctional employees who are literally nameless and faceless to the public, must be recognized. Studies and testimony from current and former corrections employees before states' legislative panels have detailed the emotional and psychological impact of participating in executions. Employees described having nightmares, emotional isolation from friends and families, and experiencing something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder.
We welcome the robust debate that has resulted in more states ending the use of capital punishment, most recently in Illinois. Many of these debates included the serious harm to individual employees working in correctional institutions when they carry out executions. While there is a diversity of views among correctional employees on the morality and appropriateness of the death penalty, everyone can agree on the need to explore the impact on corrections employees of participating in executions, and the need to protect the rights of those who choose not to participate for whatever reason.
As we mark this solemn day, we are hopeful that we can as a nation unite on the common ground of:
1) Focusing our energies and resources on protecting and supporting families that have been harmed by the tragedy of murder; and
2) Supporting Americans' right to organize in their best interests to advance and protect the needs of their families.