The death penalty: Let’s be smart about this

In 2012, during the last presidential election cycle, I wrote an article entitled, “Just when you thought it was SAFE.” In it, I stated that if the sponsors of the SAFE California Act were full of good intentions about abolishing the death penalty, then they would take the pork out of their initiative and come anew. The SAFE California Act ended up falling short at the polls by a few percentage points. But I am happy to report that since then, they have eliminated the pork, and they have definitely come anew.

Nov. 8, 2016, voters will again have an opportunity to abolish the death penalty. The new measure is called, “The Justice that Works Act.” It is well written, well meaning and well supported. And, truth be told, it is likely California’s last best chance to abolish the death penalty. Standing in the way, however, is another initiative called the “Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act.”

The Justice that Works Act, Proposition 62, calls to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP). The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act, on the other hand, seeks to “fix” the death penalty and speed up executions. Now, to any voter who may be straddling the fence when it comes to these two initiatives, I say to you this: The death penalty is not something that you “fix”; it’s something that you do away with!

According to a study by former death penalty prosecutor and judge Arthur Alarcon and law professor Paula Mitchell, “the death penalty costs over $100 million more per year to maintain than a system that has LWOP as its harshest punishment.” Thus, by attempting to “fix” the death penalty, taxpayers would be forced to dig deeper into their pocketbooks and essentially throw good money after bad. It’s time for California’s voters to get on the right side of history, because you can’t be “smart on crime” if you continue to be archaic on punishment.

I must say that for the past 10 years or so, I’ve been hearing a wide range of people using phrases like criminal justice reform, restorative justice, transformative justice, etc. Well, the time has come to put those words into action. Yes, get off of the soapbox, head to the ballot box, and may the aforementioned phrases be reflected in your votes.

The “winds of change” do not blow relentlessly; however, they have been stirring about. That is why I say that this is California’s last best chance to abolish the death penalty. To that end, propitious winds have aligned us with a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general who are all opposed to the death penalty. Adding to that impressive list is a plethora of judges, educators, celebrities and elected officials, who all agree that California’s death penalty is biased, broken and beyond repair.

Speaking of “winds of change,” I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the impact that Bernie Sanders has made in terms of his opposition to the death penalty. Case in point, Bernie Sanders refused to endorse Hillary Clinton for president unless or until she incorporated more progressive issues into the DNC’s platform. Eventually, Hillary capitulated, and issues like abolishing the death penalty were thereby adopted.

It is not known how much money and manpower the Democratic Party will actually put into getting Proposition 62 passed. One thing is for sure, though, if Bernie supporters show up at the polls, the state of California will finally be able to kiss the death penalty goodbye!

In the event that Proposition 62 does pass, it is safe to say that those who have a vested interest in maintaining California’s costly death penalty system will no doubt be “feeling the Bern!”

The 11th hour is drawing near, and between now and Nov. 8, you, the voting public, will be bombarded with biased reporting, negative ads and gruesome images. These tricks are designed to tug at your heartstrings and thereby induce you to vote against your own best interests.

To those who may be swayed or manipulated by these 11th hour tactics, just know that prisons are teeming with men and women who have been wrongfully convicted. And they are depending on you, the voter, to stand firm in your opposition to the death penalty.

As an innocent man on Death Row, I find it hard to acknowledge anything short of freedom as being a victory. To me, LWOP is not a panacea, but rather a bare beginning. But, all things considered, it is better to have a bare beginning than it is to have a “fixed” ending!

With LWOP, we live to fight another day. And I have to believe that the pathway to vindication becomes a little less convoluted once the sentence of death is no longer hanging from one’s neck. Thus, let’s be smart about this. Vote “yes” on 62 and “no” on 66!

(c) Tim Young
This article was featured in the San Francisco BayView:

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