CRIME AND PUNISHMENT--Last month, I joined fellow faith leaders on the steps of the Hall of Justice to deliver a letter urging Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to stop seeking the death penalty.
The letter, signed by more than 110 faith leaders from communities across L.A., expresses our collective regret and dismay that the death penalty is still very much alive in our community, and asks DA Lacey to bring the immoral, unjust, and irreversible practice to an end. (Los Angeles DA … and supporter of the death penalty) Jackie Lacey.)
We took these urgent steps because LA County has the largest death row population in the nation. Not only does the death penalty target vulnerable populations, including those with severe mental illnesses, histories of childhood trauma and abuse, and intellectual disabilities — but, like all human inventions, it is also subject to error. Again and again, we have seen innocent people wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Over 165 people have been exonerated and released from death rows across the nation, including five in California. Lacey understands intimately the fallible nature of the criminal justice system. When commenting upon the recent exoneration of Ruben Martinez Jr., who spent 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Lacey stated that “the pursuit of justice is not perfect” and that her office doesn’t always get it right. Capital punishment allows no such recourse in cases of imperfection.
Despite the immutable effect of a system created to kill, the LA County DA’s Office has zealously pursued the death penalty throughout Lacey’s tenure. The resulting death penalty sentences highlight the discriminatory nature of this system. Since Lacey’s election in 2012, 22 people have been formally sentenced to death, and every one of them has been a person of color. Additionally, nine of those individuals were represented by lawyers who were previously or subsequently disbarred, suspended or charged with misconduct. Lacey’s decision to seek death is immoral, but the fact that the death penalty has been reserved for people of color and those without access to sufficient legal representation is an abomination.
While public safety has long been heralded as a reason to continue state-sanctioned killing, data shows that the death penalty is ineffective at preventing crime. To address public safety, we should be investing in programs actually proven to prevent violence, instead of pursuing the most severe punishment possible.
Many of us have recognized the destructive and indefensible nature of the death penalty. In both 2012 and 2016, the majority of LA residents voted to end the death penalty. In March, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a moratorium on the death penalty, acknowledging “[i]t has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. But most of all, the death penalty is absolute, irreversible and irreparable in the event of a human error." I was proud to see the governor take a just stand, but Lacey has either rejected or ignored what the rest of us have realized. She has also railed against the long-standing process by which condemned prisoners sought review of their trials and death sentences by higher courts, calling it “ridiculous - the delays and antiquated rules.”
As a pastor, I have sat, prayed, listened and cried with both perpetrators of horrible, violent crimes and their victims and families. The death penalty does not bring healing to victims and families. It just adds more victims of the trauma of taking life. In my time as a chaplain at Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers, I have seen love transform and heal people who have committed rapes and murders. No one is beyond redemption. Accountability is right and necessary for those who commit terrible crimes, but the death penalty forecloses any opportunity for repentance and restoration. As Scripture urges, we must “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” (Prov. 31:8). We cannot remain silent in the face of the injustices perpetuated by the death penalty, nor let it continue. It is my responsibility to my parishioners and to all Angelenos to implore District Attorney Jackie Lacey to do the right thing and stop seeking the death penalty.
- On October 18, 2019, a jury recommended that Michael Gargiulo (white) be sentenced to death, however his sentence will not be final until the formal sentencing proceeding scheduled for Feb. 28, 2020.
(Mike Kinman is the rector at All Saints Church in Pasadena.)
Tags: capitol punishment, Jackie Lacey, death penalty, California, LA