Liberation News went to Capitol Hill Pride in Seattle on June 28. Along with covering an intervention into the struggle to defend the $15 minimum wage, we spoke with members of the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Katie Henderson explained that she and Xochitl Maykovich were there tabling and asking people to sign postcards directed to state Representatives and state Senators, to let them know that people in their district oppose capitol punishment.
Liberation: Why are you personally involved in this cause?
Katie Henderson: There are a lot of reasons why I am personally involved in this cause. It started with the execution of Westley Allan Dodd in 1993. [Dodd was the last person to be executed by hanging in the U.S.] Fast forward a few years, and I became active in my community and politics and the death penalty was always something I was passionate about abolishing.
Then I have learned that currently in Washington there are nine people on death row, the longest one for just under 20 years. Of the nine, four of them are Black, which doesn’t compare to the small number of Black people in Washington state.
I also feel that for the money that is spent on death penalty trials there are a lot of other things we could have done. For example, there [currently]are three people they are talking about executing, the Carnation killers who killed the girl’s family on Christmas Eve and Christopher Montfort, who killed a police officer. So currently they haven’t even gotten to the trials yet, but they have already spent $10 million to just to try and see if they can execute them.…So that is why it would be so much cheaper to keep someone, not on Death Row but on life without parole, much cheaper.
Liberation: Given that four out of nine people on Death Row are Black, what does that say about the justice system?
KH: A lot of people think that here in Washington we are pretty progressive but we aren’t really that progressive. It’s just another example of a country-wide trend, it’s not unusual for there to be a lot more minorities on Death Row. The frustrating part that goes with that is, if a white person kills a white person, they are more likely to take life without parole, if a white person kills a Black person, they are likely to get life without parole, but if a Black person kills a white person they are more likely to get the Death Penalty. That’s across the board, not just in Washington.
One thing I have learned since I got involved in the Coalition is that most people on Death Row come from the more populated counties, Snohomish, King, Pierce and Clark County. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone on Death Row from say, Ferry County or Walla Walla County, because it’s so expensive. It’s not the state the pays for it all, it’s the county.