On the last Monday in June 1991, a group of members of Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty gathered at noon in front of the Governor's Mansion holding signs advocating for abolition. In the 29 years since then, these individuals continued to hold their vigils, seeking refuge inside the Capitol in inclement weather.
The group's numbers swelled when executions were pending and also when the Legislature was debating the issue. At other times, there might only be one or two stalwart souls maintaining vigil.
In May 2015, the vigil turned into a celebration when the Legislature voted to abolish the death penalty and to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto, only to once again find themselves standing in opposition when the death penalty was reinstated.
Numbers swelled in the summer of 2018, prior to the execution of Carey Dean Moore, and today a small group of individuals, including two of the original group from 1991, maintain the vigil. They represent Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (the current name of NADP), Amnesty International USA, and other social justice movements that believe the death penalty is an anachronism in an evolving world.
Studies have shown that the death penalty, contrary to common belief, is far costlier than life in prison without possibility of parole. Imagine the positive uses these millions of dollars could be diverted to: alleviating overcrowding in prisons, providing relief to victims' families, improving education for at-risk youth, increased pay for prison personnel, programming to prepare prisoners for post-release success.
Nebraska, we can do better!
Christy Hargesheimer Lincoln, NE
Originally published in the Lincoln Journal Star on Sunday, July 12, 2020.