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37 Important Quotes About the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Quote Graphic: “The death penalty not only takes away the life of the person strapped to the table — it takes away a little bit of the humanity in each of us.” — Clint Smith

The death penalty has long been a controversial and divisive issue, with passionate advocates on both sides of the debate. While proponents argue that capital punishment is a necessary tool for deterring violent crime and ensuring justice for victims, opponents argue that the practice is fundamentally flawed and violates the human right to life.

Throughout history, numerous individuals have spoken out against the death penalty, citing a range of ethical, moral, and practical reasons for their opposition. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some powerful quotes from individuals who are against the death penalty — including activists, abolitionists, political leaders, and the families of victims.

Whether you are already opposed to capital punishment or are simply looking to learn more about the issue, these quotes are sure to give you food for thought.

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The Best Death Penalty Quotes

Famous Quotes

“Can we expect a decent society if the state is allowed to kill its own people?”
Coretta Scott King

“Can we expect a decent society if the state is allowed to kill its own people?” — Coretta Scott King

“The death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is: ‘Do we deserve to kill?’”
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

“The death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is: ‘Do we deserve to kill?’” — Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

“Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”
Martin Luther King Jr., in an interview with Ebony magazine

“Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.” — Martin Luther King Jr., in an interview with Ebony magazine‍

“The death penalty not only takes away the life of the person strapped to the table — it takes away a little bit of the humanity in each of us.”
Clint Smith

“The death penalty not only takes away the life of the person strapped to the table — it takes away a little bit of the humanity in each of us.” — Clint Smith

“There is a certain right by which we many deprive a man of life, but none by which we may deprive him of death; this is mere cruelty.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits

“There is a certain right by which we many deprive a man of life, but none by which we may deprive him of death; this is mere cruelty.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits‍

“The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery. It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics.”
Bryan Stevenson

“The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery. It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics.” — Bryan Stevenson

“Although I have suffered the loss of two family members by assassination, I remain firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses. An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation.”
Coretta Scott King, in her “The Death Penalty is a Step Back” speech

“Although I have suffered the loss of two family members by assassination, I remain firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses. An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation.” — Coretta Scott King, in her “The Death Penalty is a Step Back” speech

“To be anti-death-penalty is not to be anti-victim or anti-justice. But we can insist that we deal with violent crime without mirroring violence and taking another life.”
Shane Claiborne, in an article for Red Letter Christians

“To be anti-death-penalty is not to be anti-victim or anti-justice. But we can insist that we deal with violent crime without mirroring violence and taking another life.” — Shane Claiborne, in an article for Red Letter Christians‍

“We can never entrust our governments with the right to think they have the wisdom to be able to decide who should die.”
— Sister Helen Prejean, in an interview with Al Jazeera

“We can never entrust our governments with the right to think they have the wisdom to be able to decide who should die.” — Sister Helen Prejean, in an interview with Aljazeera‍

“Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?”
— Robert A Heinlein

“Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?” — Robert A Heinlein

“With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.”
— Eli Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Against the Death Penalty

“The State is not God. It has no right to take away that which it cannot give back, if it should so desire.”
— Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, The Bet

“The State is not God. It has no right to take away that which it cannot give back, if it should so desire.” — Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, The Bet

“Racial violence has been rationalized, legitimated, and channeled through our criminal justice system; it is expressed as police brutality, solitary confinement, and the discriminatory and arbitrary imposition of the death penalty.”
— Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

“States without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates. And national murder rates have declined steadily since 1992, despite fewer executions.”
— S.E. Cupp

“Those who support the death penalty are accepting a practice that is both ineffective and fundamentally flawed.”
Clint Smith

‍“Those who support the death penalty are accepting a practice that is both ineffective and fundamentally flawed.” — Clint Smith‍

“Killing is always wrong, whether it’s done by an individual or by the state. Violence is the disease not the cure.”
Shane Claiborne, in a tweet

“The death penalty is discriminatory and does not do anything about crime.”
— Bobby Scott

“Allowing the state to kill its citizens for any reason diminishes our humanity and sets a sadistic and dangerous precedent that is unworthy of a civilized society. “
Bernice King

“Allowing the state to kill its citizens for any reason diminishes our humanity and sets a sadistic and dangerous precedent that is unworthy of a civilized society. “ — Bernice King

“The death penalty is ineffective as a deterrent, and the appeals process is expensive and cruel to the surviving family members.”
— Martin O’Malley

“As a Christian who worships the loving, forgiving Savior on a cross, I find it particularly troubling when the cross is used as a weapon to justify violence,bloodshed, and vengeance — the very stuff I’m convinced Jesus came to heal the world of.”
Shane Claiborne, Executing Grace

“The death penalty confronts us with a penetrating moral question: Can even the monstrous crimes of those who are condemned to death and are truly guilty of such crimes erase their sacred dignity as human beings and their intrinsic right to life?”
— Blase J. Cupich

“For most people, the death penalty is an issue that’s just out there and they don’t reflect on it very deeply. They hear about a terrible crime and say, ‘that person deserves to be executed’. But I knew if we could bring people close and educate them, we’d shut the death penalty down.”
— Sister Helen Prejean, in an interview with RNZ

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

On Justice

“True justice is restorative. It heals wounds. The death penalty only creates new wounds.”
Shane Claiborne, in a tweet

“True justice is restorative. It heals wounds. The death penalty only creates new wounds.” — Shane Claiborne, in a tweet

“I can’t accept the judgment that killers need to be killed, a practice that merely perpetuates the cycle of violence.”
Bernice King

“The death penalty, I think, is a terrible scar on American justice, especially the concept of equal justice under law, but also of due process. And it goes state by state, and it’s different in different states.”
— Burke Marshall

“Being against the death penalty does not mean being against justice, or saying that murder should not have consequences. We simply believe we can honor the victims without more killing.”
Shane Claiborne, in a tweet

“Justice is never advanced in the taking of human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder.”
Coretta Scott King, in her “The Death Penalty is a Step Back” speech

“Justice is never advanced in the taking of human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder.” — Coretta Scott King, in her “The Death Penalty is a Step Back” speech

Death Penalty Quotes from Victims’ Families

“I learned the most important lesson of my life… I didn’t have to see somebody else die in order to bring healing.”
— Bill Pelke, who lost his grandmother to murder by a group of teenagers

“I learned the most important lesson of my life… I didn’t have to see somebody else die in order to bring healing.” — Bill Pelke, who lost his grandmother to murder by a group of teenagers

“When Jeffrey was murdered, I wanted the men who killed him dead. I led the fight to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts in 1997. But time passes, and you start to see things differently. I started to see that there were people like me who had suffered the same loss that I had who were opposed to the death penalty, and it kind of made me take a step back and take a look at the death penalty itself. I learned more about the death penalty and some of the problems with it, and I changed my mind.”
— Bob Curley, father of 10 year-old Jeffrey, who was murdered by two men

“I don’t relish the thought of him getting the death penalty. That’s my belief. I’d rather him get his heart straight and get life [in prison].”
— Mark Heyer, who lost his daughter to murder by a white supremacist in an anti-racism protest

“I also can’t imagine that killing in response to killing would ever bring me peace or justice… I choose to remember Sean for the light that he brought. No more darkness.”
— Jennifer L. Lemmerman, the sister of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was killed in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing

“I also can’t imagine that killing in response to killing would ever bring me peace or justice… I choose to remember Sean for the light that he brought. No more darkness.” — Jennifer L. Lemmerman, the sister of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was killed in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing‍

More Capital Punishment Quotes

“But secondly you say ‘society must exact vengeance, and society must punish’. Wrong on both counts. Vengeance comes from the individual and punishment from God.”
― Victor Hugo, The Last Day of a Condemned Man

“But secondly you say ‘society must exact vengeance, and society must punish’. Wrong on both counts. Vengeance comes from the individual and punishment from God.” ― Victor Hugo, The Last Day of a Condemned Man‍

“The state should not be killing people. Not through militarism. Not by police. Not because of ICE. Not by medical negligence. And not by death penalty. And yes. It is that simple.”
— Brittany Packnett Cunningham, in a tweet

“The death penalty and the arguments it inspires don’t only involve ethics, morals, and justice. There are bureaucratic and economic aspects to it as well. All these different aspects commingle in ways that convince me we should take whatever steps we can to abolish the death penalty.”
— Reid Hoffman

“I appeal for an end to the death penalty, which is always inadmissible since it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person. We cannot overlook the fact that, up until his or her very last moment, a person can repent and change.”
— Pope Francis

“Our system condemns the people who are the most vulnerable, not the ‘worst of the worst.’”
— Sister Helen Prejean, in a tweet

“Our system condemns the people who are the most vulnerable, not the ‘worst of the worst.’” ‍— Sister Helen Prejean, in a tweet

Article Details

January 9, 2023 3:35 PM
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