Gavin Newsom is a politician that I’ve had my eye on for a long time. Ever since he made national headlines in 2004 when, as the young and newly elected Mayor of San Francisco, he defied Federal and State laws by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. This was very brave at the time, as not only were most national Democratic leaders and politicians (including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) but even most voters nationwide were against gay marriage. Even in “liberal” California, this was not a popular move, as just 4 years later a majority of voters approved California’s anti-gay marriage measure known as Prop 8. But Gavin Newsom was showing that, as a politician, he would do what he believed to be the right thing, even if it wasn’t politically expedient at the time and he has ultimately proven to have been on the right side of history.
After getting re-elected Mayor in 2007, he then was elected Luitenent Governor of California in 2010 and then again in 2014. And I must say that after 2016 I was hoping that he would run for President in 2020. I’ve made some folks I know angry when I say that, in all honesty, I think the Democrats need to select a White male to run against Donald Trump. That’s just me being practical, looking for the best way to counter the White racism that I believe propelled Trump to the White House in the first place, and will be back to support him in 2020. So we need to fight fire with fire, so to speak. But instead Newsom chose to run for Governor of California last year and he won. Oh well. The Nation’s potential loss is California’s gain.
Well, earlier this month, Gavin Newsom did something else which, I believe, will once again come to prove that he is on the right side of history, when he placed an indefinite moratorium on the death penalty in California. He’s not the first U.S. Governor to sign such a moratorium, Oregon, Colorado, and Pennsylvania’s Governors have done so as well in the past decade, and other states have “suspended” executions. 18 states and the District of Columbia have currently outlawed the Death Penalty altogether. California will require a State Constitutional Amendment to officially end the Death Penalty, but I believe that this is a positive first step in that direction.
Over the years my personal view of the Death Penalty has evolved. I used to wholeheartedly support it. Then I became ambivalent and now I oppose it. There are all sorts of arguments that could be made for or against it based on moral grounds, and of course, I understand the visceral support for the ultimate punishment that comes from murder victim’s survivors, so don’t even try to hit me with the standard but what if someone killed your mother scenario. Yes, if my mother or some other person I love was murdered I would personally want that extract revenge by killing the perpetrator, but that doesn’t make it right. And laws are supposed to be based on what’s best for society as a whole, not on petty emotional feelings of revenge.
But the way I see it, we can’t even begin to argue the morality of the practice until we could first ensure that we have a 100% fair and balanced justice system, from top to bottom. And we can’t do that.
The system is not fair. Period. It’s flawed, in many many ways. I’m not even just talking about murder cases but in every facet of the system from top to bottom. From the way certain communities are over-policed, while others are under-policed. Racial profiling that leads to arrests. The way certain people are sentenced differently for the same crimes based on their race. I could go on and on. It seems like at least once a month I’m reading some story in the news about someone being released from prison after several decades because it was discovered that they were innocent. I’ve written about such cases before, including Eddie Bolton who spent 22 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, and Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, who spent 30 years in jail for a crime they didn’t commit. And these are just the cases that we know about, the ones that get proven false in court. Think of how many times this likely happens that we never find out about? How many people have spent years, even decades in prison without ever being exonerated? How many died in prison? How many got the death penalty?
So that’s the point. Death is the one punishment that we can’t take back. There are no do-overs. A civilized society should not ever risk putting even one innocent person to death. And the only way to avoid that is to not put anyone to death. I hope I live to see the practice outlawed nationwide someday.