Prison Reform and Criminal Justice Gridlock in the Legislature A Moratorium on the Death Penalty must be forced by the voters
"The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."
To be a good watchdog of the government and an opinion writer, it's necessary to be cynical. The reason, of course, is that everything the legislature does is packaged more for the marketing and advancement of political careers than for the good of the people.
Watchdogs should believe nothing until it actually proves out to be a fact, and not be placated by any meat baits along the way which might be designed to stop pressure.
We all want to feel hopeful that the best of humanity is represented amongst those we elect to office. Hope is what keeps us alive. The men and women on death row and those confined in the bloodhouse prisons are particularly in need of hope.
But what I have to offer today is cynicism because often legislative promises give false hopes and slows down the actual reform because people stop working to make it happen.. Millions of Californians had their holiday season ruined by the blood thirsty Repugs who celebrated Christmas with the public murder of Tookie Williams.
Now we're kicking off the New Year by the inhumane massacre of an old Indian man, Clarence Ray Allen. With this one, I can only ask what have we come to when we as people would allow our State to murder in our names an old sick man who is far beyond being any sort of threat to anyone. How many people really have the power to "order" murders from prison especially when there is no money to hire hit men? Let's get real! I don't know anyone in my address book who would go out and kill another person because I asked them to do it. There is no evidence of this taking place. The reasons why we are killing people are getting sillier each time.
Isn't this execution of Allen more about Arnold pleasing his blood-thirsty voting base for the upcoming election? Most studies show that murders are committed by mentally ill people and killing one of them to show that killing is wrong has never been a crime deterrent. The mentally ill will predictably act out their illnesses no matter how many people are killed by the State.
There are no statistics anywhere that prisons, jails, juvenile halls and harsh laws such as the death penalty do one thing to reduce crime There are many success stories around restorative justice techniques that would be smarter and more cost effective to implement if anyone really wanted to reduce crime.
The warriors to end the death penalty are still understandably depressed and grieving over the barbarism of a Governor who lives in a fantasy land, a Governor who is little more than a cartoon character himself but who has the power to order people to die.
We, the people, empowered this Governor by how we voted, or did not vote, and how many poor people we registered to stand up against the Rethuglican politicians who so love the prisons and the death penalty.
We let the skunks in our house so to speak.
So if we want to stop being sprayed with their disgusting output we need to get the skunks out of our legislative houses. We do that with grassroots work of writing to editors, doing massive protests, raising the money for initiative campaigns so we can force changes in the law to be on the ballots and rapidly building the voting machine necessary.
There are now three million voters tied with heart strings to a State Prisoner. This does not include those with loved ones in juvenile halls, federal prisons, on parole or probation. Only about 30% of these prisoners are violent and they should be getting treatment in a healing manner to make California a safer place for everyone. Three million is a voting group size which outnumbers all the law enforcement labor unions who have financed and elected people who will serve their interests to public office.
While most of the poor are uneducated, this formula was taught to almost everyone in high school history and government classes - that the people have the power to elect or recall when they all get together.
It's amazing to me how many people just don't get how simple it is to end the oppression and barbaric tactics destroying their lives.
The California legislature is in gridlock which means that no important reforms can take place. The Governor must sign all the bills before they can become law.
Let's look at the process as it applies to the Death Penalty Moratorium which in my opinion has no chance of passing through the legislature. Such a moratorium must be forced as an initiative campaign because the Governor will not sign it, especially in an election year since he represents a party whose Holy Grail is punishing by prison or the death penalty.
The people who actually voted him into office, the only ones that matter in a majority rules democracy, agree with the Governor and like this law. While I believe they are not the majority of the people, they are certainly the majority of those who vote or he wouldn't be up there stinking up our house.
Most important law changes require a 2/3 vote which means that at least some of the Repuglies must vote for it. If you study their records on how they have consistently voted against amending the Three Strikes law for example, it is easily predictable how the politicians are going to vote. They have been purchased to cast their votes in a certain manner and it doesn't take very long before you can see that the Repugs do lockstep voting against every good idea the Democrats bring forward.
When a new law (bill) is proposed it must go through the battering line of many committees assuming it makes it past the public safety committee. Each committee must approve it and then it goes to the floor vote (that means everyone) in elected office in both the Assembly and the Senate.
The Assembly floor is the most difficult to pass because so many of them are rookies and the sheer number of Assembly members makes it almost impossible to get anything that would prevent, educate or heal approved. Although in more than a decade,
I have seen this happen especially if an initiative is going to be circulated which might be even more dramatic a change than the bill. Sometimes they settle in those instances where they know an initiative has enough of a voting group behind it and the necessary first million dollars it takes to campaign a law change. If you have the workers without the million dollars, you aren't taken seriously as a voting group that can actually win an initiative campaign. But if your group has those two elements - the funds and the volunteers to be able to gather the signatures within 150 days - then you have much more a chance to be taken seriously.
After all the committees, the large bodies of the Senate and Assembly approve the bill it goes to the Governor for signing. A 2/3 majority IS NOT required for this moratorium, it can pass both houses of the State legislature with a simple majority which gives it more hope at this level than when a 2/3 majority is required.
There are some Democrats who are actually closet Repugs who will vote against the Death Penalty Moratorium. Gray Davis was a closet Repug on criminal justice matters which is one of the reasons so many of his own people recalled him. There are others who sneaked into office under this banner. At least four "Democrats" that I know of and possibly more who will likely show themselves by opposing this bill.
The largest block to the Death Penalty Moratorium bill will be the Governor himself. When a man has murdered three people on death row, taken the lives of old men, he cannot sign a moratorium bill because that would be an admission that his judgement was bad.
Arnold is never going to sign a moratorium for the death penalty except in the event he has another heart attack and is in the hospital on his way to meet his Maker and has a change of heart at the last minute. I wouldn't hold my breath for this one.
All the good bills pass the Public Safety Committee and if all our elected officials were as enlightened as Assemblymember Mark Leno, we would have seen good prison reforms years ago But as these reforms travel through the battering lines of committees and finally to the floors of both houses and then onto the Governor they get gutted and end up as a waste of time by September.
The Governor (and those before him since Pete Wilson was elected to office) has vetoed every bill that would benefit the public safety including prisoners and their families. Anything that would prevent, educate, rehabilitate or heal is voted down automatically as a "waste" of money even though studies have proven time and again that restorative justice works to reduce crime.
There is no reason why this predictable trend is going to change now even as other states adopt Moratoriums on the death penalty.
If, you the voter, want the skunks out of our legislative houses it is up to you to organize and mobilize at least twenty people that you know to help get out the vote against 99% of the Rethuglicans running for any office. There is an occasional good one but this is so rare that it is barely worth mentioning. Check the Democrats too and if you see endorsements by law enforcement labor unions in their literature, campaign hard against that person regardless of their party. Ultimately they are going to be the ones deciding your fate and preventing them from getting elected in the first place is the greatest offensive move you can make.
Initiatives, recalls and putting your own people into office are tremendously expensive while bringing twenty people each to the polls is something we can all do. It's work, but liberty and justice have never been for free. Each new generation must fight for it as those darned skunks just keep on breeding. Getting out the vote is the something that has been missing or the Amend Three Strikes initiative would never have failed and the skunks that block all the reform bills would never be sitting in our Houses in Sacramento.
It's up to the people to change the laws. Organizing is simple but each person has to want it bad enough to put in a few hours per week. How much do you want these bad laws changed? Enough to get 20 people to the polls? Enough to put up a few bucks to support advocates? Those who oppress you do not have any trouble at all with organizing. That is how they do it TO you. It's shortsighted of you to allow this to happen when the human rights people outnumber everyone and could cream the skunks at the polls. It's dumb to be the victim of other voting groups when those of your opinion outnumber them all.
If we aren't going to get together and do important initiative campaigns then we have no right to complain. We are fortunate to have the initiative process in California. It means that 6500 people committed to a little work and putting up a little money can get together and pay an attorney to file a law change with the Secretary of State
Then there are 150 days to meet the goal of enough signatures. This would mean that the trained base of 6500 people must collect at least one signature per day from a registered voter. Then when the signatures are gathered and this means of REGISTERED voters (they check everyone) with clear handwriting, the proposed change in the law goes on the ballot.
The groups who do these initiatives constantly know that once you have the trained base together, a million dollars for the cost of the campaign can be raised in a few hours with a single email. Each person puts into the pot and boom! The power machine is launched.
This is why you have these terrible laws in place. Law enforcement labor unions who usually vote Republican know this technique well and they do not begrudge the time or the dollars it takes to build and set this ugly machine in motion for job security.
It's all about money and hype for political careers.
It's time for us to dry our eyes and wake up the sleeping majority. The Skunks are in our Houses, let's get together and get them out and seal up all the entrances where they might enter by paying attention and being active with what's going on.
Ultimately the stench of skunks on the loose ruins our entire environment and we can no longer live. Just view it as an infestation that needs to be eradicated with noise, lots of pens, protest signs, letters to editors, purchased TV ads if possible, and ultimately initiative campaigns to informed voters who are educated and ready to agree with you.
Surely you are smarter than a skunk! Our forefathers were thinking of you when they set up the system and reminded us all that we have a duty to keep it pristine and functioning. Nobody had the luxury of being depressed then and the same is certainly true now.
The good people outnumber them all, so get a move on to organize and mobilize now as elections are coming and skunks are running for public office. Nothing good can happen with so many of them in the legislature, and certainly not with one of them as Governor.
Here are some quotes of famous people who tried to deliver the same message
Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Three minutes thought would suffice to find this out; but thought is irksome and three minutes is a long time.
Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.
Robert M. Hutchins:
The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.
Instead of saying that man is the creature of circumstance, it would be nearer the mark to say that man is the architect of circumstance.
William Lloyd Garrison:
The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal and hasten the resurrection of the dead.
The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive.
When women are depressed, they either eat or go shopping.
Men invade another country. It's a whole different way of thinking.
-- Elaine Boosler
Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock.
-- Will Rogers
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.
Author: Albert Einstein
If moderation is a fault, then indifference is a crime.
Author: Georg C. Lichtenberg
There is nothing harder than the softness of indifference.
Author: Juan Montalvo
"Ignorance and apathy of the people rule governments.
Knowledge is power. Knowledge comes from reading newspapers,
not from getting your news from television alone"
B. Cayenne Bird is a 45-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. A descendant of Mary Todd Lincoln, and General Andrew Porter, she is passionate about human rights and criminal justice issues. A mother and grandmother with advanced degrees in Journalism, Liberal Studies, and Humanities (Cultural Anthropology) she has focused on prison reform making great strides in Calif. supporting the landmark Plata-Coleman case for a decade which resulted in major prison reform. She writes scholarly articles too but prefers op-eds.