Stop Executing Veterans

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All three executions scheduled in the United States this summer were of honorably discharged US Marines who committed crimes after their service.

By Leah Merriam

In the Marine Corps, our motto is “Semper Fidelis” which translates to “always faithful.” In theory, this is rooted in the American ideals of God and country. As Marines, we know that what it really means is faithfulness to each other; to never leave each other behind, no matter what.

If you’ve never served in the US military, you might be surprised to learn that above patriotism, we are instilled with this deep commitment to protect one another. In boot camp, drill instructors don’t use the American flag to motivate you, they use the person beside you. They find your weaknesses and expose them to reveal your need for one another in darkness.

As members of the military, our country asks us to do the things most people don’t have the courage or the ability to do themselves. We are asked to sacrifice our freedom so that we can all be free. We expose ourselves to violence so that Americans at home can live in peace. We are seduced with the promise of honor and nobility, but on the strict condition that we thrive in desperate conditions. The training desensitizes us to death and teaches us that violence is necessary. And when we have served our time, we are only accepted back into society after our service if we have not been broken by it.

But what about the broken ones?

What about the 1.4 million veterans who are at risk of homelessness?

What about the 18 veterans who commit suicide each day?

What about the more than 300 veterans on death row?

What about the veterans who don’t fit your carefully curated image of a well-adjusted and decorated war hero?

For some veterans, the darkness they find in combat never leaves them.

On June 30th, Texas executed honorably discharged Marine veteran, John Hummel, and they aren’t done yet. The next scheduled execution in our country is of another honorably discharged Marine veteran, John Ramirez. In Nevada, honorably discharged Marine veteran, Zane Floyd awaits a new execution date after his previously scheduled execution was stayed in July.

10% of individuals on death row are veterans. It’s time we take responsibility for our veterans and offer them a path to rehabilitation in return for their service to our country. It’s time we stop executing them.

The thing that led me to join the Marine Corps is the same thing that leads me to death penalty abolition work: I’m a protector. As a protector, I cannot stand by idly while this country executes anyone, much less my fellow veterans who I promised to never leave behind. Especially not in their darkest hour.

That's why I've signed this petition to protest the execution of John Ramirez, and why I urge everyone including my fellow veterans to go on record with me to say "Stop Executing Veterans."


Sergeant Leah Merriam was enlisted in the United States Marine Corps from 2004-2009, and deployed twice to Iraq in 2006 and 2007 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She is a criminal justice student at John Jay College and a volunteer with Death Penalty Action.

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