For our September/October issue, we asked…a Mother Jones contributing photographer [Danny Wilcox Frazier] to trek around the middle of America and check in with three candidates fighting to go back to Washington.
Cairo, nominally in Illinois but geographically and culturally a Delta town, was on the wane anyway, but the armed citizenry brought things to a whole new level. Its high school football team, the Pilots, went years without playing a home game, because rival high schools refused to cross the city limits; in the early ’90s, the high school principal told the graduating class to leave while they still could. In 2004, a US Senate candidate from Chicago was sufficiently affected by his trip to Cairo that he made it part of his stump speech; against the backdrop of Cairo’s ruins—and its steps toward reconciliation—Barack Obama honed his pitch for a post-racial America.
So anyway, that’s what goes unsaid when an elected official goes on the record saying that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the Mississippi River was let loose on a neighboring town.
Gov. Pat Quinn today signed into law a historic ban on the death penalty in Illinois and commuted the sentences of 15 death row inmates to life without parole.
The governor said he followed his conscience. He said he believed in signing the bill he also should “abolish the death penalty for everyone,” including those already on death row.
“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history,” Quinn told reporters afterward. “I think it’s the right, just thing to abolish the death penalty.”
This is a clear example of political courage and moral leadership on a question of fundamental human rights. But it also represents a challenge to both citizens and elected officials of other states who have not thought critically about the death penalty or who currently refuse to do so. Take a good look at the facts, consider your other moral and political commitments, and start working toward the day when every American state comes to the same conclusion as Illinois: we can keep ourselves safe, we can stand for the rule of law, and we can support victims of violence … all without taking lives.