Death penalty punishes survivors like me

In a column written for USA Today, Tanya Coke discusses her opposition to the death penalty for its role in offering punishment rather than healing for survivors of violent crime. 

Published in USA Today | August 28, 2016

Death penalty punishes survivors like me

By Tanya Coke

The day after the massacre of nine parishioners at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., a judge sentenced a man to life in prison for killing my sister.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said the Justice Department would seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the young self-avowed white supremacist accused in the June 17, 2015 killings. His lawyers say he is willing to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison without parole, but the Justice Department says it’s seeking Roof’s execution because of his expressed hatred of African-Americans and his lack of remorse. That has prompted Roof’s legal defense team to challenge the constitutionality of the death penalty, calling it unreliable, excessive and undermined by lengthy delays.

To me, the death penalty also is something else — a sad reminder of how our justice system typically offers punishment instead of healing for the survivors of violent crime. The prosecution did not seek the death penalty in my sister’s case, but I would have opposed it had they done so.

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