January 11, 1995 letter to Assemblyman Daniel
Fessenden of the New York State Assembly
Dear Assemblyman Fessenden:
New Year's Greetings! Good luck in the upcoming legislative year.
I am writing to ask you to reconsider your position on the death penalty. Along with other people, I am concerned about the level of violence in Cortland County, New York State and our nation. Although violent crime isn't actually on the increase (all the statistics show this), it is at a deadly and absolutely unnecessary level.
The question for you as an Assemblyman and for all of us, is "what do we do about this?" There is no evidence that the death penalty prevents murder or slows down violence. In fact, between 1907 and 1963 when New York State carried out more executions than any other state, an average of two additional homicides occurred each month following a state killing. Yet, many politicians and citizens clamor for "killing the killers."
I don't have easy or simple answers, and I don't think they exist. Violence is a complicated problem involving a whole host of factors. We need to be working with young people to help them learn to resolve conflicts without violence. We need to teach men that violence isn't an acceptable response to problems (I applaud your support of the new legislation on domestic violence). We need to find ways as a society to address the sense of hopelessness and despair that many people feel about their future. We need to create good paying, meaningful jobs for people. We need to foster a climate of tolerance for our differences, be they racial, religious, language, sexual orientation or other. These are the steps which will help reduce violence, not the ultimate act of violence, state-executed murder.
In the past it was easy to support the death penalty, knowing that Governor Cuomo would veto it. Now you have a much weightier choice ahead of you. Please know that if you take the courageous step to say no to the death penalty that many of us in your district will rally to your support.
I implore you to rethink this issue and come down on the side of reasonable thinking, rather than pandering to simple solutions and the desire for revenge.