By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Recently, the Oklahoma Federation of Democratic Women’s Clubs adopted a resolution opposing State Question 776 that would include the death penalty in Oklahoma’s Constitution.
The resolution was ratified during the statewide organization’s 51st Annual Convention held on April 28-30 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Oklahoma City.
Delegates attended training sessions and conducted a business meeting in which former State Senator Connie Johnson, who represents the Georgia Brown Metro Federation of Democratic Women and is the Democratic Party Vice Chair, presented the resolution.
SQ 776, would forbid the death penalty from being construed as “the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments.” It will appear on the November 8, 2016 Oklahoma ballot.
It reads: “This measure adds a new section (9a) to Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution. It states that all death penalty statutes are in effect. It states that methods of execution can be changed. It states that the death penalty is not cruel and usual punishment.”
Citing declining use of the death penalty, the high rates of exonerations pursuant to wrongful convictions, the racial disparity and the high costs of administering the punishment given the state’s $1.3 Billion deficit, Johnson presented the resolution reflecting the federation as going on record opposing SQ 776.
Jana Harkins, Secretary of the Federation, assisted in getting the resolution to the floor.
“As chair of the Oklahoma Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty (OK-CADP), we are preparing to educate Oklahomans about death penalty myths and misinformation,” stated Johnson. “Our efforts in Oklahoma will add to the national debate by demonstrating that support is not as high as Oklahoma’s legislators believe.
“The Legislature sent SJR 31 to a vote of the people as SQ 776 in 2015. The measure essentially means that the state will use any means necessary to execute someone, including the gas chamber,” Johnson added.
The latest Sooner Poll findings (released in November 2015) show that more Oklahomans support the abolition of the death penalty, but on the condition that an alternative is offered, such as life in prison without parole.
“The series of events related to our attempts to execute Richard Glossip, our botched execution of Clayton Lockett, and our dishonesty in executing Charles Warner are embarrassing at best and barbaric at worst,” Johnson added.
“These events constitute capital punishment in Oklahoma, and they are not what most Oklahomans believe the death penalty to be.”
There are currently 49 death row inmates in Oklahoma.
“We are delighted that the Federation has announced its opposition to SQ 776,” said Don Heath, OK-CADP Vice Chair and pastor at Edmond Trinity Christian Church, “We hope other civic-minded groups on all sides of the spectrum will come out against the question.
“It uses innocuous language to amend the Bill of Rights in the Oklahoma Constitution to add to the power of the government instead of protecting the rights of the people. It would have been more straightforward to simply repeal the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.”
OK-CADP spokesperson, Adam Leathers said, “We at the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are gravely concerned about State Question 776. To enshrine the Death Penalty into our State Constitution is not only a declaration to the world that murder is one our most cherished core values, it is also a blatant and disgusting attempt by the established generation of power to control the future from beyond the grave.
“The mere existence of this State Question is disturbing and embarrassing and should cause Oklahomans shame and younger Oklahomans infuriation,” Leathers added.
Estimates are that there will be at least 16 questions on the ballot in November.
For more information, visit okcadp.org.