On March 13, California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, ensuring there would be no executions while he is in office. He also dismantled the state’s death chamber, and withdrew its lethal injection protocol.
Noting the National Academy of Sciences “conservative” estimate that four percent of the people on death rows around the country were wrongfully convicted, Newsom acknowledged that of the 737 condemned men and women in California (the largest death row in the Western Hemisphere), at least 30 could be innocent. The possibility that innocent people could be executed on his watch meant, he said, “I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”
As Death Penalty Focus President Mike Farrell explains, for the board and staff of Death Penalty Focus, as well as our thousands of supporters, it was an announcement we have been hoping to hear for 30 years, the first step in an abolition effort we began in 1989.
I want to welcome you to The Focus at this amazing time in our journey together. California Governor Gavin Newsom’s heroic act of declaring a moratorium on executions in our state has inspired us all. Declaring that not one of the 737 condemned souls on our death row will be executed on his watch has not only put wind in the sails of DPF, it has given hope to abolitionists across our country and around the world. Governor Newsom’s simple declaration of self-understanding – “this is about who I am as a human being” – has not only motivated other leaders and potential leaders around our country to declare themselves against state killing, it has, even more importantly, acknowledged the humanity of the abused, the broken, the mentally ill and the forlorn souls our society has arrogated to itself the right to declare unfit to live.
Though only a first step, the moratorium is a seminal moment for our effort and for our country. Governor Newsom’s courageous act calls on us to act as well, to declare who we are as human beings. Because just as we are lifted by his humility and his courage, there are those who condemn not only his act but the man himself. How dare he lay bare the bloody-mindedness of the system to which they have dedicated their talents and energies? How dare he suggest mistakes are made, life is cheapened, money is wasted and we are all brutalized by taking the lives of helpless women and men?
The fact that he dares to do so inspires me, but it strikes fear in the hearts of those who have told themselves the lie that killing those who kill isn’t killing, it is justice. It exposes those who deny a condemned Muslim the right to have his imam with him in the death chamber as unfeeling louts. It reveals those who hold that “The Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death” as callous thugs who would make us party to cruelty.
Because Governor Newsom has acted bravely in the face of such opposition, we support him and ask that you do the same. Be clear that the hounds of hell are baying and the lovers of death are girding for battle.