Death penalty opponents launch new protest

 

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Death penalty opponents stand on the steps at Legislative Hall in Dover during the first “Moral Monday” gathering. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER — “The people. United. Will never be defeated.”

So chanted those gathered outside Legislative Hall Monday for the first “Moral Monday” protest.

Holding signs, a dozen protesters positioned themselves at the west entrance steps around noon to voice their opposition to the death penalty and perceived racial injustice in Delaware.

Passers-by entering and exiting the building appeared to take little notice of the chants or signs.

It was the first of what organizers plan to be a series of Monday protests aimed at bringing attention to what they believe are systemic problems in Delaware.

The first small gathering came Monday, with most of the action coming in the first 45 minutes or so of what originally was scheduled to be a two-hour event.

Future rallies will attract more support as word spreads about the weekly gatherings during the legislative session, said Chandra Pitts, executive director of the One Village Alliance in Wilmington.

While abolishing the death penalty was the lead message Monday, Delaware’s criminal justice system as a whole was knocked for stiff sentencing and high incarceration rates, along with legislators who are out of touch with the most marginalized citizens, according to Ms. Pitts.

Arriving from Wilmington with a “carload” of people, Ms. Pitts said she hopes for a movement that will change legislative voices forming policy and voting on bills that set the tone for Delaware.

“We don’t want to come here to watch those who are making the votes,” she said. “We want to make a change in who is voting.”

Molly Keogh, of Smyrna, echoed those thoughts. President of Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty, she remains hopeful capital punishment will be repealed with a handful of changed votes in the state senate by sometime in March.

“We’re going to put pressure on some legislators that I’m not going to name and then pay attention to how they are voting,” she said.

Several members of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Milford also called for the end of the death penalty, but are concerned that society in general has tuned out the issue.

“The whole criminal justice system is racist and it is brought to light with the death penalty,” said Paul Russell, of Milford. “Somebody has to make others aware of the issues because many people go about their daily lives without ever considering them.”

Dover resident Sandra Nelson was on the steps because the senator who represents her district does not believe the death penalty should be abolished, she said.

Describing the death penalty as racist and un-Christian, Wilmington resident D. Marque Hall said inequality has existed in the United States since slavery, followed by Reconstruction after the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, “black people having been hung and lynched” and law enforcement’s brutality to those now walking the streets.

“This has been going on before I was born, before my parents were born, before my grandparents were born and before their parents were born,” he said.

Displayed sign messages included “No death row,” “black lives matter,” “No more execution. No more hate,” “Justice now,” “No justice. No peace” and the simply put “End the death penalty.”

When announcing the Moral Monday gatherings via news release, the Rev. Dr. Donald Morton, executive director of the Complexities of Color Coalition, said, “Lawmakers cannot just reject our desire to repeal the death penalty at the outset of the legislative session and expect us to simply go away.

“We intend to be here every week making a lot of noise with old-fashioned protests, speeches and rallies to remind politicians that they can’t keep ignoring these festering issues of basic human rights.”

Also supporting the upcoming gatherings are the Delaware Repeal Project and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Delaware branch, Dr. Morton said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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