By Donald Ray Young
Prop 34, the Savings Accountability and Full Enforcement Act, failed by a narrow 52%–48% split. Just enough to expose the execution chamber. But not enough for us to forget the wise people on the right side of history—the 48%. Death Penalty Focus, the ACLU and the Friends Committee on Legislation of California fought the good fight, unified by dedicated organizations, groups and individuals. To the hundreds of volunteers who collected more than 800,000 signatures to put the SAFE Act on the ballot. To the people who graciously sacrificed their time, energy, and treasure, we honor you and your commitment to abolition. Thank you!
If this were the last bus, we missed it. We were double-crossed by a faction of our base. Where there is execution, hope and parole cannot exist. You are either against capital punishment or for state-sponsored lynching. It is truly that simple, no matter how confusing obstructionists wish it to be. A Yes vote on Prop 34 would have abolished capital punishment in California—permanently!
Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) lives and exists in every state, with or without capital punishment. Connecticut recently became the 17th state to abolish legal lynching—the death penalty. The people of California voted in the current Death Penalty (Prop 7) on Nov. 7, 1978, and now only we the people of California can vote it out. California would have been the first state to abolish capital punishment via the ballot box. The first rule of abolition is to protect life by eradicating capital punishment. Only then can we remove LWOP from the equation. Even parole-eligible lifers are more likely to die in prison than be paroled. Wake up, California! Let us dismantle this killing machine—or is it too late?
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop.
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
Death row is where innocence takes a final breath. Capital punishment has never been concerned with morality; it has always been about brutality. Conscious people know America has preserved a legal system that puts people to death, even innocent ones. You do not need to be an “expert” to understand that killing is wrong and capital punishment must be abolished by any means. When chattel slavery was abolished in the 19th century, my ancestors were greeted with Black Codes, exclusionary laws, sharecropping, the convict lease system, chain gangs, Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. They courageously traveled this torturous path for all of humanity.
The death penalty makes killers out of judges, prosecutors, jurors, prison staff and the people of the state as a whole. The courts openly admit that the death penalty is racially biased (McKleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279). The two major organizations that were opposed to Prop 34 were the California District Attorneys Association and the California Sheriffs’ Association. These are the very entities that overwhelm the justice system with police misconduct, dishonest forensic experts, prosecutorial misconduct and false confessions. Basic math and history tell us that few, if any, California death row prisoners will ever see society. The district attorneys are calling for the immediate execution of the 20 or so who have fully exhausted their appeals.
Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in his concurring opinion in Furman v. Georgia, the case that abolished the death penalty in the United States in 1972, “If people were familiar with the truth about the death penalty they would want to abolish it.”
In November 2012, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty declared, “After much thoughtful debate, the CEDP board of directors voted not to endorse supporting the SAFE Act.” The building is on fire. We are pulling people out of the flames, while attempting to put the fire out. Instead of assisting us save lives, delusional minds and organizations selected this moment to discuss the adequacy of fire alarms. If you consider yourself an abolitionist but refuse to abolish, the least you can do is step out of the way! Thank you! We have work to do and it is a matter of life and death.
Abolitionists are obligated to galvanize the base, persuade the undecided and engage the opposition. If you are an abolitionist in fact as well as deed and not just in theory, you would have voted Yes on Prop 34. If you care about human rights, you voted Yes on Prop 34. If you wanted to save $1 billion over the next five years and create a healthy economy, you voted Yes on Prop 34.
California is 47 out of 50 states in per pupil spending, so if you care about the education of our youth and wanted to spend more on education than on prison, you voted Yes on Prop 34. If you believe in your heart that the state does not have the right to legally lynch in your name—leaving blood on your hands—you voted Yes on Prop 34.
We fought the good fight! And it’s not over. The struggle will never end.
Donald Ray Young is an innocent man erroneously convicted and sentenced to San Quentin’s death row in 2006. Young is a paralegal with an associate of arts degree in sociology. He hopes to pursue further education, including a law degree, that will aid him in achieving his exoneration. His first book is scheduled for release this year, and he blogs at www.donaldrayyoung.wordpress.com.