JURIST Guest Columnist Stephen Cooper discusses Proposition 62…
No righteous, freedom-loving Californian believes human beings should be executed for possessing or selling pot. Indeed, we rightly cringe at the megalomaniac entreaties (such as, kill drug dealers and “I’ll give you a medal”)of military strongman, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who incites, and has himself been directly linked to mass extrajudicial killings of Filipinos for non-violent drug crimes.
We tsk-tsk and, secretly or not so secretly, we pat ourselves on the back for being so much more evolved.
Putting aside for a minute, the distant and distasteful asterisk of Newt Gingrich’s proposed “Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996,” as conservative and liberal Americans in California, we wonder: How could social mores in the Philippines descend so low it becomes acceptable—and more than that, praised by the government—for vigilantes to kill over drug crimes? What became of the rule of law?!
We forget, as Don Jackson of The Los Angeles Free Press reported on April 10, 1970, that in California, “[t]he death sentence [was once] voted by the Bakersfield City Council for a second conviction of selling marijuana or illegal drugs. Councilman Robert Whitemore, who introduced the legislation said [at the time], ‘Unless severe measures are taken, an entire generation will be destroyed by dope.’”
As reported that same month by The Desert Sun, even then-Governor Ronald Reagan “hinted he might favor capital punishment for some hard drug peddlers. Asked what he thought of [the] Bakersfield City Council resolution calling for life imprisonment or the death penalty for persons convicted twice of selling hard drugs [which at that time wrongly included marijuana, just as the federal government continues to wrongly classify it as a “hard drug” today], Reagan said he thought there was ‘some justification’ for considering dope pushers as dangerous as murderers.”
In California, and across this great land, we long ago came to the realization as a people, through our democratic institutions and ideals—even ardent admirers of capital punishment, Ronald Reagan (and, yes, even Gingrich)—that it’s immoral for the state to execute a person over drugs.
Another famous, former California Governor, the Honorable Earl Warren, who later became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, were he still alive, would observe, “our standards of decency” have “evolv[ed],” thereby “[m]ark[ing] the progress of a maturing society.”
On November 8, by voting for Proposition 62 and against Proposition 66, Californians can take that next critical step forward towards marking our progress as a maturing society.
We aren’t married to the death penalty but if we were, given its dastardly, dysfunctional and discriminatory history, it’s well-nigh time for a divorce. By guaranteeing life without the possibility of parole for “the worst of the worst,” we can, as peaceful, justice-loving citizens, properly and respectfully honor the victims of homicide and their families.
Without compromising our morality, as the competing ballot initiative, Proposition 66 would require, we can finally reject the antiquated, eye-for-an-eye mentality, at capital punishment’s ignoble roots—an ideology steeped in revenge, hatred, even bloodlust.
As President Lincoln beautifully counseled at the close of his first inaugural address following the United States’ gloomy upheaval of secession, the time is now for us to look to the “better angels of our nature,” and end capital punishment. Moreover, also attributable to Lincoln: “Let’s have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.
Suggested citation: Stephen Cooper, Proposition 62 appeals to the better angels of our nature
, JURIST- Professional Commentary, September 20, 2016, http://jurist.org/hotline/2016/09/stephen-cooper-proposition-62.php.
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