Editors’ Note: This week’s post, the final installment in our pre-election #PropDropFriday series, addresses the morally bereft system of capital punishment. Californians have before them two propositions concerning the death penalty, only one of which calls for its outright abolition, a choice that GLIDE endorses. As anti-death-row activist Glen Wu argues persuasively below, capital punishment is administered in ways that are inherently racist, classist and unfair. Moreover, state-sanctioned murder is fundamentally at odds with the core of GLIDE’s mission and values, which emphasize empowerment, recovery and personal transformation. At GLIDE, we believe in a more just, loving and inclusive community; sentencing people to death strips away any potential for redemption or reconciliation from all people involved—the convicted, the victims and the arbiters of the justice system. On November 8, Please join Gwen Wu and GLIDE in voting YES on Prop 62 and NO on Prop 66.
Prop 62 will finally end California’s flawed death penalty system by converting all death sentences to life sentences without the possibility of parole. Prop 66 purports to fix the system by speeding up executions but is nothing more than twenty-four carat fool’s gold.
Three reasons I am voting YES on PROP 62:
(1) We will be getting rid of a process that perpetuates racism and structural inequality. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of California’s death row inmates are minorities. The population of death row is roughly 36% African American even though they make up only 6% of the general population. Statistically, prosecutors are more likely to try murder cases as death cases if the crime involves a minority perpetrator and a white victim. And those who lack resources for competent counsel are more likely to end up with a death sentence. This system further perpetuates inequality and bias based on race, geography and the ability to afford a good lawyer.
(2) We will ensure swift and certain justice to victims’ families.
Prop 62 ensures convicted murderers serve a strict life sentence in the general prison population. Victims’ families can take solace in the fact that guilty inmates will die in prison. Prop 62 also requires inmates to work and pay restitution to victims’ families.
(3) We will save $150 million a year.
The death penalty costs 18 times as much as life in prison without parole. Since 1978, California taxpayers have paid $5 billion to execute thirteen people. The math comes out to $384 million per execution. This process is expensive and lengthy, with over 40% of inmates spending more than 19 years on death row. According to California’s Legislative Analyst, replacing the failed death penalty system with life in prison without parole will save taxpayers $150 million a year.
Three reasons I am voting NO on PROP 66:
(1) Prop 66 is vague and impossible to implement.
Basically, Prop 66 is a sham. For example, it attempts to address the backlog of death penalty cases by requiring court-appointed attorneys without any death penalty experience to work on these cases. That solution is short-sighted at best and quite frankly displays a reckless disregard for the lives of wrongfully convicted inmates. As Stephen Cooper eloquently explains, “[Q]ualified death penalty lawyers don’t grow on trees. Nor will a gigantic stork suddenly deliver them on November 9.”
(2) Prop 66 will likely result in the execution of innocent people.
Unqualified counsel increases the chance of the state executing innocent people. DNA technology and new evidence have proven the innocence of more than 150 inmates on death row around the country. In California, 67 people have had their murder convictions overturned. Prop 66 is modeled after laws in Texas and other states that have led to miscarriages of justice and the execution of the innocent. What a costly, irreversible mistake.
(3) Prop 66 exempts officials from current lethal-injection regulations, which will result in botched executions and cause further cruel and unusual suffering.
This reason alone convinces me to vote no on Prop 66. No one really knows what this looks like but, theoretically, prison officials can whip up a lethal serum or potion and administer the dose laissez-faire. Reading one or two stories about botched executions should convince you that this is utterly terrifying.
I thoroughly look forward to November 8. On that day, I have the opportunity to change California’s history by voting to abolish an expensive, flawed, unfixable system that disproportionately affects racial minorities and dehumanizes individuals.
Gwen Wu is proud to call Berkeley Law her alma mater. In law school, she was a part of the Death Penalty Clinic, which provides representation to death row inmates in California and other states. After graduating in 2015, she worked as a legal fellow at the Prison Law Office, a non-profit public interest law firm that provides free legal services to adult and juvenile offenders to improve their conditions of confinement.