Finally, the death penalty has been ended in Illinois. It is no surprise, we're sure, that for over 30 years, Oak Park has been an incubator of profound and thoughtful opposition to the state's taking of life in the name of justice.
Last week in Springfield, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill ending the death penalty. At his side was Rep. Karen Yarbrough, one of two state legislators who bravely led this fight over many years. Yarbrough is a state rep for both Oak Park and River Forest. As she told our Megan Dooley this week, the ethics of the death penalty were not on her political radar until the day, many years back, when she attended a rally in Oak Park and heard opponents articulate the many reasons the death penalty is wrong and unfairly applied.
We salute Yarbrough, and we thank Oak Parkers who led on this contentious issue even when, decades ago, public sentiment was unflinching on the subject. The late Mary Alice Rankin founded the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty in the 1970s. Her kids, now grown, recalled their mom's energy and focus in interviews last week. Pat McAnany, over on East Avenue, has been vigilant over the decades in opposing the death penalty through Ascension's Peace and Justice Committee.
Finally there is David Protess, a longtime Oak Parker and head of the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern's Medill journalism school. Ultimately this decision turned when the public lost confidence in its system of justice, lost faith that the courts were able to convict and execute only those who were absolutely guilty of heinous crimes. The Medill Innocence Project proved time and again that the system had failed, that innocent men were on Death Row.
Many people across this state — and credit to former Gov. George Ryan is essential — played their roles in this social justice victory. Oak Parkers are high on that list.