Justice or Bust 

Two women trek across Montana to protest the death penalty

Over a cup of tea at Merlin’s, a Whitehall pizza parlor across the street from a shepherd’s wagon beneath a row of cottonwoods, Eve Malo talks about the death penalty. “We’re out of step with international law,” she asserts. Capital punishment, she clarifies, violates Article 5 of the International Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

In addition to their portrayal of capital punishment as archaic and inhumane, Malo and her companion Clare Sinclair, are visiting schools, libraries, and churches in rural Montana to offer alternatives and solutions to violence in society.

Poverty, child abuse, and isolation are the chief causes that lead people to crime, maintains Sinclair, who emphasizes that a community-oriented, compassionate society reduces violent crime more effectively than the threat of death.

In keeping with their ideals, Malo and Sinclair have both spent the majority of their lives working for peace, justice, and education in the United States and abroad.

During WWII, Sinclair graduated from college and, drawn to pacifism, became a Quaker. After spending four years as director of a preschool project in Gaza Strip refugee camps and volunteering with secondary schools in West Africa, Sinclair settled down to teach juvenile offenders at the Mountain View School for Girls in Helena. At the school, Sinclair noticed that mothers and grandmothers of the girls had also attended, as inmates. She saw criminal behavior pass from one generation to the next through poor parenting and isolation.

Malo’s realizations were different, but no less dramatic. In the 1930s, Malo’s uncle murdered her grandmother. “My mother moved us to Europe because it was so horrible; the publicity, the intrusion on the family, the rejection was not worth dealing with,” she explains. Malo spent her childhood in England, Switzerland, and Germany. Having seen Germany change under Hitler, over the course of six years, Malo says she understands quite a bit about oppression.

For Malo, our nation’s policing strikes a chord of concern. “We need to look at ways of reducing the firepower, not building it up,” she adds. “I see our country as very dangerous; we are going towards more violence.” Malo also expresses concern over the prison population, “Eighty percent of the nearly 2 million people in prison are young people who have never committed a violent crime.” She notes that minorities and poor people who can’t afford fair representation make up a disproportionate percentage of the inmate population.

Through her two-year friendship with a death row inmate, Malo strengthened her conviction that all people can grow spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. Malo and her inmate friend discuss adventure novels and memoirs like Angela’s Ashes. “He also wrote a very moving poem called ‘Uncaged,’” Malo remarks, “and that adds to the point that we’re trying to make; even though he’s on death row, he needs time for redemption.”

As Malo reflects, Sinclair quietly interjects, “You know we’re the only industrialized democracy that still has the death penalty?”

By continuing the use of capital punishment, the U.S. receives negative attention from international human rights groups and businesses. As Montana coordinator for Amnesty International in Dillon since 1987, Malo is disappointed in her country’s record.

In response to her dismay, Malo announced plans to travel Montana in search of signatures for a resolution to abolish the death penalty. Sinclair joined her readily. The two decided to go on their crusade in a shepherd’s wagon, because the wagon symbolizes antiquated thought. Their resolve to stop in small towns commemorates peace activist Jeannette Rankin’s successful 1917 campaign for Congress.

In their travels, Malo and Sinclair have chatted with people who are vocal for and against the death penalty. They are often posed with the questions, “What would happen if these people got out?” or “What are you going to do with them if you don’t kill them?”

A few months ago, Malo says she encountered a woman whose uncle had committed murder. The woman said her uncle deserved a death sentence, then asked, “Am I a bad person?”

“Of course she’s not a bad person,” Malo says. “Her statement is a reflection of how pained her family is, how her family needs a strong support system to help them handle the tragedy.

“As a society,” Malo goes on, “we need to focus on restorative justice, instead of retributive justice.” Malo and Sinclair agree that the death penalty doesn’t help families heal their pain. “I am deeply saddened,” reiterates Sinclair, “that our society sees the death penalty as a solution.”

As Malo and Sinclair travel the state with the “torch of consciousness,” they also carry hope. “As long as we’re alive,” confides Sinclair, “we will do whatever we can to improve humanity, and to love each other.”

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