Tag Archives: death penalty

Pulling the Plug- DA Gascon Explains Why He Rejects the Death Penalty

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon discussed his support for Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty in California, at USF last Tuesday. According to Gascon, a former death penalty advocate, there is no correlation between capital punishment and reduced homicides.

“When I came to San Francisco we were at 100 homicides a year, now we are at 50. When a person kills another human being, they are not thinking of the death penalty. The death penalty does not make us safer and there is no way of bringing back someone who’s dead,” he said.

Natasha Minsker, manager of the Yes on 34 campaign, also joined Gascon to speak in favor of reforming California’s Three Strikes law, which currently enforces state courts to impose 25 years to life sentences on individuals convicted of three or more serious offenses. Serious offenses include murder, rape, and burglary with an intent to commit a robbery or murder.

The proposition reform, also called Proposition 36, would impose the life sentence only when a new felony conviction is serious or violent, and continues to enforce the life sentence penalty if third strike involved a firearm, or if previous charges were for rape, murder, or child molestation.

Proposition 34 will replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole as the maximum punishment for murder in California. This will save California taxpayers $130 million a year. According to Minsker, this proposition will require individuals guilty of murder to work in prison and pay restitution to victims’ families.

That $130 million will make a big difference, Gascon said. “We incarcerate more people than any other nation and, economically, we can’t afford it anymore. We need to put more emphasis on unsolved crimes.” Minsker said that currently 46% of murder and rape crimes goes unsolved in California each year. If Proposition 34 passes, the $130 million annual savings is intended to go toward public safety resources and solving such crimes.

These unsettling statistics are one of the main reasons Gascon and Minsker urge people to vote for the proposition. “If you get nothing else out of this meeting today, please vote,” said Gascon, an advocate of prison reform. “I’ve come to the conclusion that our system is broken.”

Interested in voicing your opinion on the criminal justice system? Gascon suggested looking at the prison realignment referenced in Proposition 36. The proposition states that people who have committed less violent crimes go to county jail with heavy local level supervision, which will reduce incarceration costs. Gascon also suggested checking out the Innocence Project, a public policy organization that aims to bring justice to wrongly convicted individuals through DNA testing and political reform.

He attributed his experience in public safety to his opposition of capital punishment. “I have spent three decades in some of the toughest neighborhoods west of the Mississippi,” said Gascon, who grew up in Bell, California, a Los Angeles suburb, and attended college in Long Beach and Fullerton. “I come from a place where the slim potential of executing an innocent person is enough for me to oppose the death penalty,” he said. Should Proposition 34 pass, current death row inmates will automatically be switched to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Marvin Pascua, a senior politics major, found Gascon’s speech effective. He said: “[In targeting] such areas as cost and moral issues, [the speakers] accomplished their goal of persuading people to vote. I feel that it’s finally time we, as progressive city, try to pass prop 34.”

Politics professor Corey Cook, who moderated the question and answer session, said that the discussion provided even more reasons beyond morality to encourage voting.

“In addition to the philosophical reasons students might have for voting either way on the death penalty abolition or the three strikes amendment, I think the speakers offered numerous pragmatic considerations on cost and utility” he said.

Emily Whetherley, a graduate student studying international development economics, agreed with Cook. “I have been back and forth [about the death penalty] in general,” she said. “I don’t think it’s morally right, and as an economics major, it was interesting to hear the practical reasons and numbers for it.”

Cook is optimistic about the influence that Gascon and Minsker had at the discussion.

“I think the district attorney is a particularly effective spokesperson for these issues, not only as the city’s chief law enforcement officer with a depth of experience, but he’s someone whose own views have evolved,” he said. “I’m not sure it will influence how students will vote, but it might encourage them to get involved and influence others”.

The Local Perspective: A Closer Look at California Propositions


If you’re registered to vote in California, and feel like the Electoral College will throw your presidential vote into a sea of democratic blue, fear not.There are still reasons to get to the polls! There are 11 high-stakes propositions in November’s ballot that will be both define the future of our state and course of national dialogue.

Historically, many of these propositions are won or lost by extremely close margins, meaning every vote counts—including yours.

The California Initiative process, proposing laws through petitions, was designed to give citizens in the state the ability to sidestep their elected legislators and make governmental decisions themselves.
The initiative process, copied from Sweden’s system, was created by constitutional amendment in 1914 to counter the political powerhouse of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Although today your ability to create petitions has been hindered by money from special interest groups, voting on these initiatives is still an empowering form of direct democracy.

Our U.S. Constitution has been amended only 22 times in the past 222 years, while the California constitution has changed over 540 times in 130 years, according to Reed Levine of the grassroots movement Vote No on Everything.Voter-driven change in California is not just tangible, it’s borderline excessive.

The state’s initiative process has shown to be the catalyst for a greater national dialogue. Californians, through their propositions, have brought issues like the death penalty, affirmative action, medical marijuana, stem-cell research, and assisted suicide to the dinner tables of Americans everywhere.

In 2008, Proposition 8 sparked a national discussion around same-sex marriage and today, Proposition 37 has started a serious discussion around genetically modified foods. We as youth voters have the opportunity to begin framing the debate for our future, depending the initiatives we vote for this November.

Here’s a breakdown of the 2012 California propositions:

Proposition 30: Temporary taxes to fund education
Increases taxes on earnings over $250,000 for seven years and sales taxes by ¼ a cent for four years, to fund schools.

Proposition 31: State budget cycle
Increases budget cycle from one year to two and gives the governor power to cut budget of one person or group during fiscal emergencies.

Proposition 32: Political contributions
Prohibits unions, corporations, or government contractors from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes, with exemptions.

Proposition 33: Car insurance
Changes law to allow insurance companies to set prices based on whether the driver previously carried auto insurance with any insurance company, and the driver’s history with other insurance companies.

Proposition 34: Death penalty
Statute to repeal the death penalty, applying retroactively to persons already sentenced to death. Statute requires that those found guilty of murder to work while in prison, with wages subject to deduction for victim restitution fees. Also directs $100 million from California’s General Fund to law enforcement agencies and homicide investigations (SAFE).

Proposition 35: Human trafficking
Increasing penalties for human trafficking. Including lengthened prison sentences, requirement of traffickers to register as sex offenders, requirement for sex offenders to provide Internet passwords for social media identities, and requires human trafficking training for police officers.

Proposition 36: Three Strikes Law revisions
Revises the Three Strikes Law to impose life sentence only when a new felony conviction is serious or violent. Continues to impose life sentence penalty if third strike law involved a firearm, or if previous charges were for rape, murder, or child molestation.

Proposition 37: Labeling genetically engineered foods
Requires labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from genetically modified plants or animals, with exemptions.

Proposition 38: Tax to fund education and early childhood programs
Increased personal income tax rates on annual earnings over $7,316, on a sliding scale based on total yearly income, for 12 years, to fund education.

Proposition 39: Tax treatment for multi-state businesses and clean energy efficiency funding
Requires multi-state business to calculate their income tax based on percentage of sales in California instead of getting to choose their own favorable formula. Also dedicates $550 million annually, from expected increase in revenue, to create energy efficient and clean energy jobs in the state.

For more prop info, go to voterguide.sos.ca.gov/propositions

For Student, No Justifying Death Penalty

I love my home, the great state of Georgia. Every time I hear a disparaging joke or comment about Georgia or the south in general, I feel the need to defend the place and people I know and respect. Such was the case early last week when a history class began the day with a discussion of the Troy Davis case. While I admitted that the facts of the case were troubling, I refused to let the class walk away assuming that Mr. Davis faced death solely because he was black. The truth is much more depressing then that.

In the most recent Gallup Poll available on capital punishment, 64 percent of Americans hold a “favorable” opinion of the death penalty. Of the 34 states which still conduct executions, 13 of them—representing all 13 stars of the Confederate battle flag—are in the south. My home state didn’t want to kill Troy Davis because he was black. It wanted to kill him because our culture believes killing is a necessary part of a civilized society.
I cannot pretend to be an expert in the particulars of the Troy Davis case. I will not make any attempt here to defend either the state’s case against him, nor his supporters’ case against the state. In my mind, both are irrelevant to the central question of this controversy: Can a democratic government uphold the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while putting to death its own citizens?

Years ago, I looked within to find some reason to justify continuing to support the death penalty. Neither then, nor now, can I find a single, compelling fact that makes cold blooded murder a vital function of American government. During the recent Arab Spring, our leaders have not hesitated to contrast the “blood-thirsty” nature of embattled regimes with our own, “tolerant” spirit. Yet, those almost universally despised, despotic governments in Egypt, Syria, and Libya combined to execute fewer of their citizens in 2010 than did our own system of “justice.”

On the same day Troy Davis died for supposedly killing a police officer in Georgia, another man was executed in Texas. In the summer of 1998, a black man named James Byrd was kidnapped, chained to the back of a truck, and dragged until his body literally disintegrated. Russell Brewer was one of the three men who committed this modern day lynching, and for his crimes, the state of Texas took his life. Unlike the case of Troy Davis, there were not significant doubts as to Brewer’s guilt. Supporters of the death penalty will point to such crimes and ask, what else, but death, can possibly answer such irredeemable hate?
The outrage and activism inspired by the failed attempts to save Troy Davis are noble and important steps towards the end of state-run murder. But until we understand that the killing of loathsome men like Russell Brewer is every bit as unnecessary and unjustifiable as the executions of potentially innocent men, our culture cannot accept the fact that murder is wrong no matter what the circumstance.
Troy Davis and Russell Brewer did not die because of the colors of their skin, or at least, not just because of them. They died because the south in particular, and Americans in general, continue to live in an Old Testament world, where retribution, not justice, is the goal. The execution of Troy Davis made me ashamed of the place I called home. I could not consider myself a person of principle if the execution of Russell Brewer did not fill me with shame as well. Guilt or innocence can be debated. The inherent inhumanity of the death penalty cannot.