Shelby County Commission Calls for a Moratorium

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Nashville: Tennessee’s Largest County joined over 150 municipalities nationwide today in calling for a halt to executions. The Shelby County Commission voted 8-3 to approve a bi-partisan resolution calling on the Tennessee General Assembly to halt executions for two years until racial disparities in death sentences and the risk of executing an innocent person can be addressed. The Commission’s call fits well with a move in the state legislature to pass legislation creating a commission to conduct a thorough study of the state’s death penalty system introduced by Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) and Representative Rob Briley (D-Nashville).

“The Shelby County Commission has taken a bold and necessary step today,” said Reverend Stacy Rector, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. “Tennessee’s death penalty system is dangerously broken and our state representatives need to take steps to fix it before we consider carrying out any more executions.”

Nationwide over 120 men have been freed from death rows after evidence of their innocence came to light, roughly one exoneration for every nine executions in the same period of time. African-Americans make up 40% of Tennessee’s death row, while comprising only 17% of the population. A nationwide study found that a person was four times as likely to face the death penalty for the murder of a white victim then a victim of color.

“Tennessee’s death penalty is unfairly targeting the black community,” said Mrs. Johnnie Turner, president of the Memphis NAACP Branch, who testified before the Commission’s Legislative Committee. “I am proud that the County Commission acted to ensure that life and death decisions are not be meted out based on a person’s color.”

The moratorium that the resolution calls for would halt only executions for two years while the problems of Tennessee’s death penalty are examined. The trial and appellate processes would continue in their usual way. The Shelby County Commission joins the Nashville-Davidson Metro Council which has previously called for a moratorium on executions.

“The governments of the two largest counties in the state have now called for a moratorium on executions,” said Rector. “Our state policy-makers should take notice and act before Tennessee makes an irreversible error.”

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