Friends, we have work to do. Today we have to start over because in the end, Jerry Brown walked away. In spite of pleas from around the world, he walked away after eight years, leaving our state with the largest death row in the Western Hemisphere. He did it without explanation, justification, or apology.
Six former governors, all of whom granted clemency in their states at a time when support for the death penalty was much higher than it is now, asked him to act. Every major newspaper in California, as well as the New York Times and the Washington Post; religious leaders; social and criminal justice advocates like Sister Helen Prejean, Dolores Huerta, and Jesse Jackson; the European Union Ambassador to the United States; and almost 50,000 people across the U.S., who signed petitions or wrote letters; all asked him to grant clemency to the 740 women and men on death row, or at least declare a moratorium on executions. But he walked away.
All who called on Brown understood that the death penalty is a barbaric punishment that has no place in a civilized society. Most believed, based on past statements and actions, he knew this as well and simply couldn’t walk away leaving 740 condemned souls without hope.
But he not only did that, he left behind a worse death penalty system than the one we had to deal with when he took office. Proposition 66, the seriously flawed initiative passed by a slim majority of California voters in 2016, aims to speed up executions by eliminating legal safeguards. (See an analysis of Prop 66, the first of two parts, below.)
In their New York Times open letter, the six governors called on him to either grant clemency or declare a moratorium to give Governor Gavin Newsom the time he’ll need to fix this broken system, saying “Such an act will take political will and moral clarity, both of which Gov. Brown has amply demonstrated in the past. In the interests of his legacy, the people of California need his leadership one more time before he leaves office.”
Instead, Jerry Brown walked away.
But we’re still here, frustrated, but far from defeated. We believe we now have a strong ally in Governor Newsom and, as the Death Penalty Information Center’s annual report confirmed last month, state killing is in decline and will soon die out.
Unwilling to walk away, we will continue to bend that arc toward justice.
Activist and actor Mike Farrell is the President of Death Penalty Focus.