In the midst of Arkansas’ executions, just about everyone is debating their thoughts on the death penalty. Saturday in Bentonville and Fayetteville, the Arkansas’ Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty showed a documentary “The Gathering” about prisoners who’ve been cleared from crimes that put them in death row.
“There’s now 158 who have been sent to death row that did not commit the crime, and have now been exonerated and freed,” said Abraham Bonowitz with Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Over 400 years. That’s how long the exonerated death row inmates in the U.S. have spent waiting for their death. Some were even hours away from their execution before being proven innocent.
“I can talk till I’m blue in the face about this issue, but when you have a story. When you have a visual people can come and see that helps frame it. What you see in the documentary are how they ended up in death row wrongly,” said Bonowitz.
The Gathering captures a group of people coming together once a year to talk about one thing, being free. Bonowitz said showing this film is important to open peoples’ eyes and spark conversation. “The purpose is to open up dialogued with people. Give people a chance to talk about this issue because it’s so hot in the news. A lot of people are waking up to the fact that there are executions, there is the death penalty in Arkansas.”
Randy Gardner, who’s brother was the last person executed by a firing squad in Utah, said his brother sentence was deserved. But a similar outcome for the innocent on death row is unacceptable.
“I had no idea people were going to prison for a crime they didn’t commit. My brother was guilty, most people in Utah were guilty. If they execute one innocent person that’s one reason to do away with the death penalty,” said Gardner.
Bonowitz wants justice to be served for people who commit violent crimes, but use the funds for the death penalty for victims’ families.
‘We believe the resources that are wasted on trying to execute a hand full of people could be better spent on services for all victim families,” said Bonowitz. “But let’s be clear, most of the people that go to prison and go to death row are guilty of what they were charged of. But when we’re talking about the power to kill, the government can’t be trusted with that power because as human beings we are fallible.”
Another screening of The Gathering is Sunday, April 23, at the Rogers Public Library, at 1 p.m.