BY GRANT BONHAM
The California proposition system is a piece of progressive reform that puts the power of legislation in the hands of the electorate. Seventeen statewide propositions are on the ballot with topics ranging from marijuana to prescription drug prices. But one of the most fascinating and controversial topics being brought before the people of California this year is death itself. Two propositions will be up for vote that will alter the state’s ability to administer capital punishment as our state’s ultimate judgement. Proposition 66 and 62 are two opposing ballot measures that effectively change the state’s death penalty in two very different ways. If passed, proposition 62 will end the use of the death penalty in California and will bring all death row inmates into life without parole sentences. On the other side, prop 66 is looking to streamline the death penalty to more quickly give death row inmates what they’ve been sentenced to. 66 includes a few other things to make the bill seem more attractive and their campaign says it is California’s only chance at creating an effective death row. Both propositions have varying levels of support and their passing is not certain. But if they do both pass, according to the California Constitution, the one with the most yes votes will become law.
The numbers are not in favor of the death penalty. The United States is the last remaining developed nation to still allow for capital punishment. In an order of state sponsored executions, the United States falls 5th in mass behind China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Within the United States, California is joined by 29 other states who have similar stances on the issue. So while the policy is popular across the U.S., there is not that kind of support for the death penalty across the rest of the developed world.
At this defining avenue these two propositions represent a moral conundrum that is being left for the voters of California to decide: what is the fitting punishment for someone who has murdered or raped and how does that punishment reflect our society?
The punishment should not be death. A modern and effective government does not rule on the basis of justice that replaces a life lost with the taking of another. No matter how heinous the crime, murder should never be a tool used by the state, on its own people. The argument for the death penalty is inherently an argument over morals, yet the yes on prop 66 side will try and frame it as an argument over justice. That is not what it is nor what it ever will be. Nobody debates that justice should be sought for criminals. The argument involving justice is then a fragment of our morality and how that shapes the justice that we seek. No civilized society should perpetuate the myth that justice sought to avenge a crime could be better sought with murder. Nobel prize winning author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, said, “Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.” It is this sentiment that rests on the shoulders of this debate. California cannot promote a society that supports execution as a resolution to a crime.
Yet this punishment is not far off from others in our courts and it fits well into an American psyche that has perpetuated the most costly and ineffective prison system in the world. Ultimately, the death penalty represents the darkest extremes of a criminal justice system that often focuses on punishment over rehabilitation. Death is unchanging, enduring and absolute, with no goal of bettering our society. The death penalty does nothing to fight crime because it slaughters instead of reforms the individuals that were a part of it. Attacking, imprisoning, and murdering criminals leaves no room for change or recovery for the communities and families that were affected by their crimes. Instead of looking inward and generating policies and prisons that can help further prevent these crimes from happening, we murder those who committed these crimes learning only how they did it. Whether it be a mentally handicapped man killed for a crime he was not responsible for, or a hardened criminal released from jail that killed again, there is no difference in death. Justice, sought for murder or rape, cannot be obtained by administering an execution and murdering again. The death penalty is a poor, barbaric policy that seeks vengeance instead of repentance and in its existence seeks to cause harm as an equalizer.
On these merits, I join Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and countless others in recommending that everyone vote Yes on Prop 62 and no on Prop 66. It is time for the California justice system to take a morally responsible decision and eliminate murder as a punishment for our citizens. No matter how much faster the process becomes, it will be costly, and the money that could be saved from ending it all together could be used on victim services and violence prevention programs. This policy is an outdated form of punishment that seeks no form of rehabilitation and forward progress for those who have been found guilty of the worst crimes. Ultimately, our society can be judged by the actions we take in times of great pressure. Choosing to end the death penalty is the best decision that seeks to help repair those that have been injured instead of causing and perpetuating more harm.