In a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told his colleagues, “The time is now for the U.S. to end capital punishment.”
“I know we are shocked and disgusted by some of the horrific murders we see in this country that seem to take place every week,” he said. “But it seems to me that at a time of rampant violence and murder, it is important that the state itself, the government here in America, say loud and clearly that we will not be part of that process.”
Sanders, who is currently running for president, acknowledged he is in a “minority position” on the issue — with nearly two-thirds of Americans saying they still support the practice. Yet Sanders also called attention to the move globally to eliminate the death penalty, saying that he would rather follow the example of European democracies than countries like China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia that most commonly put their own citizens to death. The U.S. ranks fifth in the world in executions behind those nations, despite the fact that 19 states and the District of Columbia have already abolished the practice.
“The state, in a democratic, civilized society, should not itself be involved in the murder of other Americans,” Sanders said Thursday, noting that he has “no problem” with sentencing violent criminals to life in prison without parole in lieu of capital punishment. “We should lock them up and throw away the key,” he said.
The speech comes just one day after Sanders’ main rival for the White House, Hillary Clinton, said at an event in New Hampshire that she does not support ending the death penalty. Though she acknowledged the punishment has been “too frequently applied, and too often in a discriminatory way,” she said she believes it is still warranted in “certain egregious cases.”
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is running against Sanders and Clinton for the Democratic nomination, signed a law banning the death penalty in his state in 2013, and says he would work to abolish it nationally if elected.
Earlier this fall, when Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress, he called on lawmakers to put an end to capital punishment, saying no one can claim to be pro-life if he or she supports the practice. Sanders, an open fan of Pope Francis’ teachings said Thursday that the country “must go beyond the doctrine of revenge — ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.'”