For activists seeking a moratorium on the death penalty, 2000 was a pretty good year. With a 14 percent decline in the number of executions performed in the United States this year (84 versus 98 in 1999) and a recent Justice Department examination of racial and geographic disparities in death-penalty sentencing, there is an indication that people are growing more cautious and perhaps skeptical when it comes to capital punishment.
On Dec. 18, representatives from Moratorium 2000--a campaign calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty--met with a supportive United Nations in New York City. Representatives from the campaign, including Dead Man Walking author Sister Helen Prejean and former death-row inmate William Nieves, presented U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan with more than three million signatures on petitions circulated worldwide. Included were more than 21,000 signatures from North Carolinians. Steve Dear, director of North Carolina's People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, spoke at the U.N. rally and called the event incredibly encouraging. "It was a great way to end the year, and it was a great year," Dear said.
PFADP does have a lot to be proud of: This past year, nine local governments in North Carolina passed moratoriums, including Durham and Chapel Hill, with more resolutions expected soon. And the day after Dear returned from New York, an N.C. legislative panel voted to recommend a temporary halt to executions statewide. Dear says that increased efforts by abolitionists have resulted in a tremendous amount of dialogue. "People are talking about the death penalty and thinking about the death penalty. The more they learn, the more they see that what we have is a broken system that targets the poorest of the poor and the most easily hated in our society," Dear says.
The impact of death-penalty abolitionism here in North Carolina has been felt as far away as Italy, where anti-death-penalty sentiment is strong. Recently, the city of Rome adopted a policy of illuminating the Roman Coliseum for a period of days to mark each time a prisoner is spared execution. Late in November, when Gov. Jim Hunt commuted the sentence of death-row inmate Marcus Carter, the Coliseum was again illuminated.
PFADP plans for 2001 include a major rally in March and a goal of collecting 100,000 signatures by this time next year. Dear is optimistic about the upcoming year and proud of the work that North Carolinians are doing. "[Our work] here in the land of Jesse Helms is an inspiration to people around the country and around the world," he says.