Anti-death penalty advocates discuss future
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 22:02
In the Walsh classroom on the bottom floor of the Underwood Law Library, Rais Bhuiyan greeted the audience:“as-Salamu alaikum”, the traditional greeting of Islam that means “peace and blessings to you.”
It was the very fact that Bhuiyan was Muslim that resulted in him being shot not too long after 9/11. However Bhuiyan was not there to talk about hate crimes, he was there to speak out against the death penalty.
The ACS and the Human Rights Law Association hosted its second annual event advocating against the death penalty Wednesday.
This year they asked the question, “Is the death penalty dying?” For Bhuiyan and the two other speakers, SMU associate professor of law Victoria Palacios and SMU history professor and director of the Embrey Human Rights Program Rick Halperin, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
“Whatever you think about this issue, as sure as the sun is going to come up tomorrow, the process of ending the death penalty has begun—whether you like it or not,” Halperin said.
Palacios was eager to discuss the progress being made towards abolishing the death penalty. She noted that changes are being made in court decisions, from legislatures and through political discourse.
She cited three different cases where the assumed punishment would have been the death penalty but courts decided against it.
Palacios was pleased with victories such as a court’s ruling that the sentencing of a mentally disabled person to death is unconstitutional.
She also recognized the court rulings that acknowledge the existence of developmental differences between an adult and a minor. However, Palacios said there is still “so much more to be done.”
The advocates’ main goal is to educate people about the reasons why they find the death penalty an unnecessary punishment.
Halperin compared abolishing the death penalty to abolishing slavery or giving women the right to vote. He said that one day we will look back on capital punishment in disbelief that we tolerated it in America.
“The immediate end of the death penalty is not at hand but it is coming in your life time,” Halperin said.
The death penalty is something very personal for Bhuiyan who fought to stop the execution of the man who shot and was there at his execution.
“Even though he tried to end my life,” Bhuiyan said, “I tried to save his.”
Bhuiyan, a humanitarian, travels all over the world to educate people on peace and forgiveness.
He believes everyone deserves second chances for the mistakes they make but the death penalty eliminates that possibility.
“More and more families of victims are coming forward against this cruel and inhuman punishment,” Bhuiyan said.
Although the speakers agreed that it will be a long fight to finally abolish the death penalty, they are optimistic that the end will soon come.
“With zombie-like persistence, it keeps coming back,” Palacios said. “Let’s put it to rest.”