Monday, November 5, 2012

A RETROSPECTIVE: California Proposition 34


The debate over the death penalty has raged for many years. My personal coming to terms with capital punishment has been long and tortuous. For most of my life I have been pro-death penalty. I have argued it's merits with many people through out my life. My reasoning was simple if someone had committed murder they forfeited their right to be among us. It was a kind of Old Testament rationale. An eye for an eye. I repeated this constantly as if this simple mantra described everything it swept up in it's wide embrace. That was all there was to say.
Leviticus 24: 17 "Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal.19 ‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him— 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. 21 And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death. 22 You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God.”
This cold logic brought down on stone tablets described a world view that has been transformed. Many of the core stories depicted in the Bible which infuses our Judeo-Christian culture would be challenged today. The concept of death by stoning was called barbaric when it was applied to a muslim woman who had committed adultery. As metaphor it continues though. It encapsulates a method by which society can collectively punish, yet no one can be held personally responsible for the death of the murderer. In the west we no longer stone people to death. However, our instinct for collective reprisal continues seemingly unabated through the death penalty. If we all were to participate in this way by casting stones perhaps it would have a healing effect for victims as well as society. But wait read again another truth:
John 8:10 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Now early[a] in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst,4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught[b] in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded[c] us that such should be stoned.[d] But what do You say?”[e] 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.[f]7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up[g] and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience,[h] went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her,[i]“Woman, where are those accusers of yours?[j] Has no one condemned you.

Then there was Tookie:

*Contra Costa Times reporter John Simerman, "They had some trouble with the second I.V., which was in the left arm… Williams, at one point, grimaced or looked almost out of frustration…at the difficulty there…He had his glasses on the whole time. He kept them on, and he kept looking…

Graphic Gun over Map of Los Angeles

Slide Show of Vigil for Stanley "Tookie" Williams

Click Here for Slide Show

With a look of frustration on his face, Williams angrily asked the technicians, "You guys doing that right?"

On a cold December night in 2005 I stood with a couple of hundred anti death penalty advocates. I shielded my emotions by documenting, taking pictures. My inner contradictions running high I used my camera to cover my my feelings. Mr. Stanley "Tookie" Williams former head of the notorius "Crips" gang in Los Angeles, at that moment waited on San Quintens Death Row for the final ritual to begin. As the minutes ticked by the crowd became increasingly more tense. Some waited for information to be relayed on their cell phones. Till the last there was some hope that this infamous gang leader would gain clemency for all of his work to compel young gang bangers to lay down their guns. He urged them not follow in his path.

For the most part cynisim followed in his wake, many believing that his new found redemption was a ruse At 12:35 A.M. on the morning of December 13, 2005 Stanley Williams was executed. Finally it was over, reportedly he had urged the executioner on*. The letahal ingections worked their way into his system and extinguished his heart. The crowd grew hushed as word spread. To the end he proclaimed his innocence for the crime he died for, though many questioned whether he had participated in or ordered the murder of others. Regardless the potential good he accomplished in the twenty four years in which his trial was on appeal sat unquestioned.

In the days before I had gotten into a protracted argument with a death penalty aadvocate. Our conversation ended when he had called Stanley Williams an animal. Words I had used before myself, but some how they semed lame and hollow. Raising ourselves above other human beings, debasing them to make a point seemed so much like the quasi moralistic words of the slave holding class both in the fields and in the pulpit. If we could by edict will people to be less than human, we would join with every petty tyrnt that walked the earth. If it is aas simple as denying another human being their humanity, then we proclaim ourselves innocent. If we cannot see humanity even in the most evil individual murder then we have no place to put he Hitlers, Pol Pots and all mass murderers.

So for the next six years I wrestled with the ghost of TOKOIE and every other inmate waiting on death row for their sentence to be carried out. Since Stanley Williams was executed I tend to read stories about executions in the news. Perhaps a morbid fascination fuels this or it might be that I need to probe the mind of the executioner and the executed. The legal wrangling, the families of the victims, the original crime, the exoneration based on DNA, all of these pull at me. At this point I know this. If every one who was convicted of a capital offense was forced to do life imprison with out the possibility of parole, that would indeed be death sentence albeit protracted. We would deprive the prisoner of a future outside of prison until they were dead. If you think prison is the good life, you haven't been in one. I have been in several as an observer. My fit convince rst '"remote" in my television career was at San Bruno Jail. I have also known several people who were in jail. All your false brevado could not convince me that being incarcerated in maximum security jail was a cake walk. Nor I might add, for the guilty should it be.

Most of all the economic statistics on the Death Penalty vs Life Without Possibility of Parole, the exoneration of innocent people through DNA evidence and the execution of people with IQ's below 75 have pushed me to reconsider. Where will the execution of our fellow human beings take us?

If you must have retribution locking someone up for the rest of their lives is punishment enough. It is a slow somber death. Giving the state the option of killing people to show how wrong killing is defies logic. Creating a cottage industry that spikes the cost of the ultimate punishment is ludicrous. It is cheaper to house an inmate for life than for to prosecute and appeal a death sentence trial.

So you say what if it was one of your friends or family? This is not an abstraction for me. If you have ever contemplated carrying out a death sentence yourself, you cannot ask that question. My question to you would you stone someone to death? Could you pull the trigger on the suspected murderer? Would you be certain you got the right person? Since the reinstitution of the death penalty 78% of executions took pace in the deep south, what do you suspect you would find in terms of racial makeup of the convicts?

So finally I must say that long held beliefs can evolve. My fellow California Voters I ask you to consider a yes vote on Prop 34. If you like I think it is time for us to get out of the business of killing people please VOTE YES. If you have considered the alternatives calmly away from the inflamed rhetoric and believe as I do that punishment comes in many forms please VOTE YES. If you have examined the facts and know what a tremendos economic drain capital punishment causes our society,

Please VOTE YES on 34.

grief is private

but sometimes

the world needs to know

that all people

are the victims of

the swirl of violence

one beginning attaching

to the end of another

it preys upon us

like a striped tiger

slinking through the underbrush


stealing the silence

paws moving noiselessly swiftly

spreading weeping

rippling into the night

Poem Copyright

©2012 Frederick D. Perry, All Rights Reserved


  1. Prop. 34 proponents are perpetuating a huge FRAUD against California voters, knowing that with the millions of out-of-state dollars they can repeat their lies enough times that voters will begin to accept them. A Study by Judicial Watch concludes that Prop. 34 is “both disingenuous and deceptive.” Three former CA governors and every major law enforcement group in CA OPPOSE Pro. 34.

    Pro. 34 is dangerous, will cost taxpayers more, and was poorly thought through.

    Prop. 34 will NOT save money, but instead COST TAXPAYERS BILLIONS of dollars more in additional trials, prison changes, and escalating health care costs.

    Claims that Prop. 34 will save money are based upon a paper written by a former judge who has been advocating for abolishing the death penalty for decades (neither unbiased nor accurate). A review of these numbers by the Legislative Analyst’s Office concludes that the assumptions supporting these claimed savings “may well be wrong.” Michael Genest, former State Of California Finance Director, found that these “savings claims are grossly exaggerated.” Also, the loss of the threat of the death penalty will substantially increase the total number of murder trials by taking away a major incentive for murderers to plead guilty.

    Prop. 34 ignores the escalating costs of medical care for life-time inmates. Prop. 34 will cost CA taxpayers billions more over the next several years. (It is these huge medical costs that are fueling the attack on life sentences under 3-strikes under Prop. 36.)

    Prop. 34 is DANGEROUS. Experts conclude that Pro. 34 will increase the number of murders in California. Criminals will be more brazen in their crimes without the death penalty. Also, there will be no deterrent for the 34,000 inmates already serving life from killing a guard or an inmate. They are already serving the maximum penalty.

    One of the key methods for “saving” money under Prop. 34 is to move death row inmates into the general population and house them from single-person cells with other inmates. One strong proponent of Prop. 34 admits this is unworkable– the risk of danger posed by mixing the prison population is too great, and would increase costs associated with such an arrangement.

    Life without parole is means they WILL GET OUT. Efforts are already being pursued by the same people supporting anti-punishment ballots and legislation to get rid of life sentences. (Human Rights Watch, Old Behind Bars, 2012.) On 9/30/12, Brown passed the first step, signing a bill to allow 309 inmates with life sentences for murder to be paroled after serving 25 years. Someone who has committed a brutal murder at age 20 could get out by age 45! Governors are also notorious for releasing inmates who should never be released. Convicted killers get out and kill again, such as Darryl Thomas Kemp, Kenneth Allen McDuff, and Bennie Demps.

    ARGUMENTS OF INNOCENCE BOGUS. Proponents can’t identify one innocent person executed in CA. They can’t identify one person on CA’s death row who has exhausted his appeals and has a plausible claim of innocence. Quite simply, CA’s appellate process, designed by the very same people promoting Prop. 34, is 100% effective in weeding out the innocent. Every person Prop. 34 proponents refer to are either non-death-penalty cases or out-of-state cases where defendants do not get the benefit of CA’s appellate process.

    Don’t get fooled by the bombardment of lies. See cadeathpenalty.webs. com and voteno34. org for more facts explaining why you should NOT SUPPORT Prop. 34.

  2. Those on death row murdered at least 1,279 people, including 230 children & 43 police officers. 211 were raped, 319 robbed, 66 killed by execution, & 47 tortured. 11 murdered other inmates.

    A jury of 12 people & a judge confirmed for each inmate that their crimes were so atrocious and they were so dangerous that they not only did not deserve to live, but they were so dangerous that the only safe recourse was the death penalty. Recognizing how dangerous these killers are, the prison houses them 1 person to a cell and does not provide them with work, leaving them locked in their cells most of the day.

    Prop. 34 wants to ignore all of this and save $ by placing these killers in less-restrictive prisons where they share cells. They also want to provide them opportunities for work, where they have more freedom, access to other inmates and guards, & more chances to make weapons.

    Prop. 34 also destroys any incentive for the 34,000 inmates already serving life without parole to kill again. There would be no death penalty. They are already serving a life sentence, so why not get a name by killing another inmate or a guard?

    Prop. 34 also takes away the money for inmates to challenge their convictions. If innocent, they will spend the rest of their life in jail, celled with vicious killers. Prop. 34 will cause more deaths of innocent people– guards and people wrongfully convicted but no longer able to fight it in court.

    And they refer to Prop. 34 as the SAFE Act!


So What Do You Think?