Opinion: One of the most egregious injustices — the death penalty — can be abolished if investors take a stand

By Mike Novogratz

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 9:43 a.m. ET

I wrote this oped for Market Watch to call on my peers to use their platform to call for abolishing the Death Penalty. The time is now to end this stain on our national consciousness. You can see the original article here.

My mother taught me: “If you can help, help.” Investors like myself can help end the cruel, racist and wasteful practice that is capital punishment.

We all have a duty to speak out against injustice — especially those of us with loud voices — and the death penalty fails to deliver justice by every conceivable measure. On Oct. 7 the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty Campaign announced the latest list of supporters, and I am proud to join the dozens who have signed on.

I call on other business leaders — especially investors — to do the same.

Today, perhaps more than ever, Americans stand divided in their interpretations of justice. However, there can be no disagreement — at least not by anyone with a shred of moral integrity — that we shouldn’t kill innocent people. Yet our system of capital punishment flies in the face of that belief. The latest data tell us that for every eight people executed, one innocent person ends up exonerated. This should be unacceptable to even the most ardent eye-for-an-eye supporter of retributive justice.

The death penalty also wastes an insane amount of taxpayer dollars — not to mention the cost to human life. It costs an extra $2 million per case, on average, to execute someone — and there is no corresponding benefit to public safety. State and regional murder statistics show no correlation between use of capital punishment and reduced crime — death penalty states have higher homicide rates. Now more than ever, we need cost-effective justice solutions that work. Any jurisdictional authority that continues to support such a transparently flawed system demonstrates a fundamental lack of fiscal responsibility.

For example, Arizona’s government secretly spent nearly $2 million on execution drugs and consulting pharmacists, at a time when 1 million Arizonans were struggling with hunger. Governments should prioritize saving lives, not ending them. We have an obligation to voice our disapproval at such reckless mismanagement of taxes and — if change is not forthcoming — should choose to invest elsewhere.

Bryan Stevenson’s memoir, “Just Mercy,” convincingly argues how state-sanctioned killings became de jure lynchings — a symbol and a tool of racial oppression. Killers of white victims are executed at a rate 17 times greater than those whose victims are black. The states that had the highest lynching rates are the states with the highest execution rates. Fighting this discrimination isn’t just an absolute moral imperative. Federal Reserve regional banks across the country, from Dallas to Atlanta to Minneapolis, have called out systemic racism as a structural risk to the U.S. economy — one that will inhibit growth as we look to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. As key stakeholders — and engines — of that inclusive recovery, we have a responsibility to help dismantle the racist and predatory institutions that continue to undermine it.

Investors can have a tremendous impact on our justice system. In April, Barclays succumbed under pressure from investors and other activists to withdraw from a toxic deal financing private prison construction in Alabama. That expansion project is now close to collapsing.

This influence extends beyond the private sector, and direct investor activism on the death penalty is far from unprecedented. In 2019, the $36 billion French state pension fund (among other investors) blacklisted U.S. Treasurys markets because capital punishment is allowed in some states. It’s no secret that when we speak up, lawmakers pay attention. We can use that voice to help end capital punishment.

Investor engagement on social issues is becoming existential. The long-downplayed “S” in ESG (environmental, social and governance) has been rapidly growing in prominence, and prodding from activists has led funds to consider a more active stance. It is becoming more and more apparent that our broken justice system is the most important social issue facing an American generation. The death penalty embodies that brokenness. Support is at a 50-year low, and Gallup revealed in 2019 that, for the first time ever, most Americans prefer alternative punishments for murder. To stand against it is to stand on the right side of history.

Support for ending capital punishment is gaining momentum on both sides of the aisle. Virginia abolished it in March, becoming the first Southern state to end it. In Ohio a bipartisan abolition bill is making unprecedented progress through the legislature, and Gov. Mike DeWine has indicated that he’ll sign it — which would make him the first Republican governor to do so. At the federal level, President Biden’s moratorium is a step in the right direction, but he must go further — by commuting the sentences of all those awaiting execution.

Public support from economic change-makers — investors — could help push hard-fought abolition efforts over the line. We hold a responsibility to speak out against injustice — not to mention ineffective policies. We should embrace that responsibility by calling for an end to capital punishment.

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Mike Novogratz’s blog about criminal justice reform, equality, elections, and other focus areas for his family foundation, Galaxy Gives.

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Michael E. Novogratz

Michael E. Novogratz

Mike Novogratz is the founder and CEO of Galaxy Digital. He is also the founding board chair of the Bail Project and a partner in the Justice Reform Alliance.

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