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  • Occupy Wall Street: What Just Happened?

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Death Penalty Abolition Transcends Parties

Concern about the Death Penalty Transcends Party Lines: Death Row Exoneree Ray Krone Touches Young Republicans and Progressives at Hofstra University

By Colleen Eren

The 100th person to be freed from death row after DNA evidence proved his innocence, Ray Krone, spoke powerfully of his experience of justice gone wrong and of awaiting execution at the Hofstra University Cultural Center. This NYADP event was co-sponsored by the Young Republicans of Nassau County, The Hofstra Republicans, The Hofstra Progressive Students’ Union, and the Hofstra Students for Life, proof that the death penalty is an issue of rising concern to voters across a wide political spectrum.

In introducing Ray, the President of the Hofstra Young Republicans, Kathleen Hunker, emphasized that party members must not merely be ideologues, touting party lines on the death penalty. “The death penalty is a life issue” she stated, and urged the audience to carefully consider all implications before blindly upholding policy. And indeed, Ray gave the audience good reason to consider these policies. Students were riveted as he described how within hours, he went from being an “Average American,” a former Air Force Veteran who did well in school, enjoyed baseball and had a job with the civil service, to being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, and spending a decade in prison, longing for freedom.

Concluding with “The death penalty doesn’t need your assent to continue on its way…it just needs your indifference,” Ray challenged the students to use their power to make changes in the injustices they perceive in the world. If there is a uniting across political boundaries such as was witnessed at this event, it is indeed possible the injustices of the death penalty system will be eliminated.

Colleen Eren, 23, is NYADP‘s youngest organizer. Born on Long Island, Colleen became active in the abolitionist movement in high school, motivated by a talk given by Sister Helen Prejean. She founded a chapter of Amnesty International at age 17: “I realized then that if I did not speak out against the death penalty, that executioners were killing with my hands, in my name. I had to bring the message to other people my age.¨ Graduating valedictorian from Hofstra’s New College, Colleen co-taught classes at Hofstra on Human Righsts and International Law, Comparative Religious Ethics, and Capital Punishment in the United States, while continuing her activism as a member of Amnesty’s Abolitionist Network. Now a doctoral student of Sociology at CUNY’s Graduate Center, Colleen worked over the past year with NYADP. She’s arranged forums on the death penalty across Nassau and Suffolk, bringing death row exonerees to speak to over 1300 Long Islanders, and has been excited to dialogue with the amazing individuals in political, ethical, religious, justice, cultural, and social groups on the Island about capital punishment. Asked about a particularly memorable moment in her work with NYADP, Colleen unhesistantingly answered, “Watching the faces, and talking to some of the 900 juniors and seniors of St. John the Baptist High School after they had heard Juan Melendez’s presentation about his 17 years on death row. The myth that the justice system is ideal had been shattered for them, but they were inspired–they had been touched in a deep way by his story. This is what makes our movement powerful, our work meaningful, and ultimately, this is what is going to make our future society a more just and human one.

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