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:

Amazing Race

America’s public education system has been completely gutted.  As it stands, it is but a shell of what it used to be.  The social ramifications that will derive from this will be far reaching; because you can’t cut programs, eliminate staff, increase class sizes and expect to cultivate a bunch of geniuses.

Speaking of geniuses… President Bush was the brainchild behind the “No Child Left Behind Act,” but guess what?  No child got ahead!  President Obama was the driving force behind “Race to the Top,” but guess what?  It’s a slippery slope!

Exactly what is “Race to the Top?”  It’s a fund consisting of 4.35 billion in federal stimulus money.  It requires that states enact education reform in order to compete for grant money.  In essence, “Race to the Top” is nothing but a strong-arm tactic designed to: weaken teachers’ unions.  Implement pension reform.  Eliminate teacher-tenure. Do away with the seniority process.  And, lastly, to get states to raise the maximum number of charter schools.  Why?  Because those teachers are mostly non-union.  In critiquing President Obama’s education policy, it becomes crystal clear that “Race to the Top” is more like “Roll to the Bottom.”

Let’s take a gander at America’s report card.  Based on National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, 68% of 8th-graders scored below proficient in math, and 69% scored below proficient in reading.  Further, out of 30 developed countries, U.S. students ranked 21st in science literacy, and 25th in math literacy.  Also, according to the 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index, when comparing higher education enrollment, the U.S. ranked sixth, following behind South Korea, Finland, and Greece. What’s even more alarming, is that in cities like Oakland, California, the high school drop out rate is higher than 40%.  I’m no rocket scientist, but it seems that America is not only suffering a financial meltdown, but an academic one as well.

With no foreseeable “change” in the forecast, people have begun labeling this generation the “lost generation.”  The possibility of them racing to the top is next to nil.  They face so many uphill battles in life that many of them have completely “checked out.” when it comes to academics.  Part of the problem is that they have too many distractions.  Ttoday’s students are dealing with everything from family issues, to peer pressure, gangs, and bullying.  Another thing affecting their school performance is that they are totally preoccupied with technology.

Technology is both friend and foe.  Here’s the skinny on how it can become a distraction.  Tech companies produce every type of gizmo that you can imagine.  Consumers respond like giddy little kids in a candy store.  They relish their new purchases.  The young and the old alike; they tweet, text, chat, and play video games ad nauseam.  If they’re not “sexting,” they’re busy surfing the World Wide Web.  It must be addictive because they browse the Internet like junkies looking for a fix.  They post up on Facebook as if the real world doesn’t exist.  This is the life they lead, and it is counterproductive to the process of learning.

The American psyche appears to be in a choke hold, and educators seem to be at their wit’s end about it.  Many of them have witnessed generation after generation become less reachable, and less teachable.  Who, or what, could be causing this academic deviation?  Community leaders tend to point their fingers at the folks up in Washington.  Politicians, on the other hand, are adamant that this academic deviation is the result of pop culture and poor parenting.  Clearly, someone has dropped the ball when it comes to educating the youth.

The jury is in on this matter, and the verdict is just: He who defunded public education, is he who haveth blood upon his hands!  That said, politicians are culpable for the following three things: Hundreds of schools have closed.  Thousands of teachers have been laid off.  And, college tuition has gone through the roof!  These three things represent the hidden cost associated with the decision to defund public education.

Ironically, with the 2012 presidential election less than a year away, these very politicians will be standing on their corporate-sponsored soap boxes; preaching about jobs, family values, and the importance of a quality education.  Those who are not hip to this empty rhetoric will once again be duped into believing that there’s a “race to educate.”  When in actuality, there’s only a “race to incarcerate!”

Note to parent(s): You cannot rely on the government, you can only rely on yourselves!  If you don’t want your children to end up in the clutches of the system, it’s imperative that you provide them every opportunity to learn, grow, and spread their wings.  As a parent, know that you’re the most important teacher that your child will ever come in contact with.  Also, know that the best education policy that a child can ever benefit from is the one that begins at home.  Therefore, get involved: Keep them laced up.  Keep them on the right track.  Teach them how to stay ahead of the curve.  After all, we cannot expect them to “race to the top” if we have not prepared them to go the distance!

(c) Tim Young