I just want to say thank you, but I can’t resist saying a bit more. Thank you doesn’t seem to me to be enough to fully acknowledge what you have done. Your support for our effort to put an end to state killing means more to me personally than I can easily put into words, but let me try.
Though we failed to convince a majority of the voters to understand it, Proposition 62 was more than an effort to end the use of the death penalty in California. In my view, transferring the condemned men and women on our nation’s largest death row to a sentence of life in prison would have done more than get our state out of the killing business. It would have lifted our spirits in a way some might have had difficulty comprehending, and it would have created an irresistible momentum that brought an end to the death penalty in the United States… and from there, ultimately, the world.
So you see, your support meant more than changing an antiquated law that legalizes a primitive practice; it spoke to your recognition of the fact that we are failing ourselves and our children when we pretend to be a civilized people while continuing to countenance barbarism.
Those are strong words, I know, but in my view they are not only proper but important.
As our nation was formed, one of its Founding Fathers, Dr. Benjamin Rush, strongly opposed the inclusion of the death penalty in our criminal laws. Dr. Rush, who founded the Pennsylvania Prison Society, said the death penalty had a brutalizing effect on the people who use it. One doesn’t have to look deeply into the way our society has evolved to see very significant evidence that he was right.
There is nothing civilized about taking a helpless, shackled human being from the cage where he’s been held for years, extinguishing him, and calling it justice. The price paid by those tasked with carrying out this deadly process radiates outward, brutalizing the system built to perform it and the society that tolerates it. The message it sends is quite clear: some human beings are meaningless, valueless, disposable.
I believe we can do better. I believe we can be better than that. It’s my belief that those who proclaimed a nation founded on each individual’s “unalienable right to life” had a vision of a nation we have yet to realize, and I believe it is one to which we should still aspire. It is a nation based on the recognition of an innate human value and dignity, the knowledge that we are all, in fact, responsible to one another. It is a society that honors its duty to help and heal, if possible, the broken, the damaged, the mentally ill and all those once labeled ‘the least among us.’
From where I stand that nation is not only attainable, it’s here, unacknowledged yet readily available. And for me, the struggle to achieve it is well worth the effort. So my undying thanks go to you for your willingness to have lent a hand to this effort, one more step along the way.