To Honor Life from Stacy Rector on Vimeo.
The death penalty is an inefficient, inequitable, and an exorbitantly expensive government program that does not make our communities safer nor does it ensure swift and sure justice for victims’ families. Tennesseans believe that all people should be treated equally under the law, regardless of how much money they make, where they live, or the color of their skin. In reality, Tennessee’s death penalty is applied unfairly, even for similar crimes. Some people are sentenced to die because they couldn’t afford a better lawyer or because they live in a county that often seeks the death penalty. In fact, forty percent of Tennessee’s death row comes from one county—Shelby—while half of Tennessee’s counties have never sent anyone to death row. The death penalty system continues to risk the execution of innocent people with 150 individuals nationwide released from death rows after evidence of their innocence came to light. Tennessee has released four men wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death who languished on death row for decades. Tennessee continues to pay millions more to maintain this broken death penalty system than for a system who maximum sentence is life without parole.
TADP has singular mission: to abolish the death penalty in the state of Tennessee. In the current political climate in this state, our mission requires education of Tennessee citizens and legislators on an issue that most people wish to avoid consideration of altogether. When people are confronted with the facts and compelled to consider them, they tend to agree, regardless of their political orientation, that the death penalty should be reconsidered. However, this is not an issue that affects the day to day lives of many people, and getting their attention and compelling action is a challenge. The road is long, and we need sustained action and funding of that action even though our progress (changing hearts and minds one person at a time) is not always apparent.
We have made progress. We have had some substantial monetary support from surprising sources, but we need more for the long journey. Legislators from both sides of the aisle are listening. We are not infrequently told by them that if we bring their constituents along, they are ready to give us serious consideration. People are increasingly skeptical of the state prosecutorial apparatus; through our efforts they have seen and heard from the growing number of exonerees who were wrongfully accused and convicted. People are tiring of the enormous cost of the death penalty. The tide is slowly turning.
Our board members tend to be passionate death penalty abolitionists due to various life experiences, and these board members are not typically people who have access to wealth or the wealthy. One challenge is to find board members who share our passion and who have access to those of a different socio-economic status. We are seeking out those individuals to join with us in accomplishing our mission.
High school and college students from across the state gather at a college or university in February to attend the annual Student Conference on the Death Penalty. Over the past nine years, this conference has included nearly 1,300 Tennessee students. Keynote speakers from past conferences include Nick and Amanda Wilcox whose daughter, Laura, was murdered while volunteering at a mental health clinic by a man with severe and persistent mental illness; Vicki Shieber whose daughter, Shannon, was murdered while attending graduate school; David Kaczynski, whose brother Ted is the so-called Unabomber; and Juan Melendez, who spent nearly 18 years on Florida's death row for a crime he didn't commit.
Our state continues to spend millions of dollars a year on an unpopular punishment that hasn’t been used since 2009. The 2004 Tennessee Comptroller’s “Tennessee’s Death Penalty: Costs and Consequences” report revealed that death penalty trials cost an average of 48 percent more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment. The death penalty fails at both efficiency and results.
Tennessee Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty (TCCATDP) provides a platform for Tennessee conservatives to question this system marked by inefficiency, inequity, and inaccuracy and to educate other conservatives statewide about this failed policy that doesn't make us safer, risks executing the innocent, and is wasteful and expensive.
Justin Phillips joins us as the TADP organizer from Jackson, Tennessee, having served on the staff and faculty of Union University (Jackson, TN). Justin grew up in Union City (TN) and attended Union University for his undergraduate studies. Upon graduation, Justin attended Duke University Divinity School and earned a Masters of Divinity. He later graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, CA) with a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics. Justin has taught courses on biblical studies, ethics, race, and justice. All of these interests have led him to join TADP to work toward the repeal of the death penalty.
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