State Senator speaks about ending the death penalty
By Xirena Wormley
Byron Halsey, an African-American man, was convicted of murdering two children and although the prosecution pushed for the death penalty at the time, he was sentenced to life. Years later, it was discovered that Halsey was, in fact, innocent. Had he been sentenced to death he would have been wrongfully killed.
The story was told by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (DUnion), who was the honored speaker on Oct. 9 in Wilkins Theatre, invited by the International Amnesty Organization and the Kean Elite Media and Production Association to discuss the fight he led to end capital punishment in New Jersey.
To commemorate the event, a montage of inspirational videos promoting the powerful message of human rights played in the background in preparation forLesniak’s appearance.
Alex Vasquez student Area coordinator of the Amnesty International Organization, introduced Lesniak, noting his accomplishments, including an international human rights award at Le Memorial de Caen, the D-Day and Human Rights Museum in Normandy.
“Senator Raymond Lesniak fought to end one of the last forms of human injustice,” Vasquez said.
Lesniak told the audience that the death penalty is racially prejudiced. He also said the appeal process in death penalty cases is onerous and causes additional grief for the families of murder victims.
Many people questioned Lesniak’s motive for petitioning against the death penalty. In order to answer that question he raised one of his own. “Who deserves to die?”
“I realize that the death penalty is not a hot button issue in New Jersey and never was,” Lesniak said.
In fact, he noted that no one since the 1960’s had been executed under the death penalty. Still, he said the death penalty is an important issue. Since the death penalty was abolished in N.J. several other states have also ended capital punishment.
Lesniak also noted his advocacy for other human rights including alternatives to incarceration, same sex marriage and affordable education. Furthermore, he noted his support for health care and animal rights.
He explained why it is important for everyone to stand up for the human rights they believe in by voting with their conscious.
Loosely quoting Martin Luther King’s idea of social justice, he said: “The arch of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.”
He reminded the audience that once women were not allowed to vote. “We have come a long way but we have a ways to go,” Lesniak said.
Overall, Lesniak declared “Human rights has a lot of nuances that permeates every aspect of life.”
During the question and answer part of the session, Lesniak was candid about his personal views of fellow politicians. Of the governor, a Republican, Lesniak said:“Chris Christie is listening to the creed of take care of yourself and don’t worry about everyone else.” He reiterated his support for President Obama and urged students to get involved, stating “politics can be fun.”
Students were particularly interested in his views on the cost of higher education, especially in New Jersey which has among the highesttuitions in the nation. Lesniak noted he supports the upcoming school bond act. The $750 million bond issue is on the November ballot and if passed, would be used for construction projects on public college campuses.