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By Eric Johnson
Published May 29, 2023

Service members stand in formation during a Memorial Day service. Service members stand in formation during a Memorial Day service. Image credit: Photo by Infinite Eye, Shutterstock

Memorial Day & the Death Penalty

More than 160 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans still face institutionalized racism that often has deadly results. Witness the fact, explained in Jon Vankin’s article about the death penalty (below), that Black Americans are exceedingly more likely to be executed for their crimes than White Americans. Today is a good day to consider that harrowing fact.

Some scholars have argued that Black Americans invented the holiday we now celebrate as Memorial Day. On May 1, 1865, a group of 10,000 Black men, women and children in Charleston, South Carolina, newly freed by Lincoln's order, marched to honor more than 250 Union soldiers that had been buried in a mass grave at a nearby Confederate prison. They then unearthed the soldiers, gave them each a proper burial, and placed flowers on their graves. That event may have served as inspiration when Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic declared May 30, 1868 as the first Decoration Day, which was offically renamed and made a national holiday in 1971.

Honoring All Veterans

Memorial Day is primarily meant to honor those who gave their lives in military service to the United States. It is also a good time to thank living veterans for their service. If you or a loved one are a veteran, follow these links to find some information that we hope will be useful.

Facts About California’s Veterans and the Resources They Have Earned

‘Stand Down’ Events Provide Veterans a Lifeline

Find local nonprofits and community organizations serving veterans. (Follow this link and select your county from the drop-down in the upper left corner of your screen.)

Some Arguments for the Abolishment of Capital Punishment

"A 2022 report by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund tabulated all U.S. executions since 1976 and found that, though they comprise 13.6 percent of the American population, Black people have been executed at a rate almost three times as high: 34 percent of all executed convicts.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 2019, he cited racial inequity as a primary driver of his decision. He also pointed to studies that strongly suggest that a significant percentage of the convicts on California's death row are innocent of their crimes. Whatever your opinion on this topic you are likey to find surprises in these accounts.

Is California’s Death Penalty Finally Dead?

The death chamber inside San Quentin. Gov. Newsom has ordered the facility dismantled.
The death penalty remains legal in California, but Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a moratorium on executions in 2019. Will capital punishment end in the state? Here’s what’s happening.

Death Penalty Mistakes: When the State Kills the Innocent

How many innocent people have been executed? There is no way to know for sure.
More than 4 percent of death penalty convicts have been wrongfully convicted, data shows. But courts including the U.S. Supreme Court have failed to provide protections for the innocent facing death at the hands of the state.

Death, Life, and 174 Years of Legal Progress

When the Supreme Court of California was created at the state’s first Constitutional Convention in 1849, the death penalty was one of the more contentious issues under debate. The Court has wrestled with the issue ever since, along with many others, as this brief—and again surprising—history shows. 

How the California Supreme Court Blazes Legal Trails

The California Supreme Court has defined the state’s legal and political agenda for more than 170 years.
The California Supreme Court has kept the state at the forefront of legal issues surrounding abortion, the death penalty and same-sex marriage, starting in its earliest days in the Gold Rush era.

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