Election 2012: Organizing to eliminate the death penalty in California

By Task Force Senior Field Organizer Trystan Reese and Task Force Organizing Fellow Malcolm Shanks 

The Task Force has always held that “liberated bodies” is one of the core frameworks through which we do our work. For us, being respectively a gay trans man and a queer black Muslim, we hold this value as central to our lives. We have felt the heavy hand of the state on our bodies, our identities, our relationships, our spirituality and our families. We can only imagine what it would feel like to have our very life being determined by those who have power we have never had access to.

Task Force Organizing Fellow Malcolm Shanks (center) educating voters on Prop. 34 at UCLA.

It is through this lens that the Task Force has been dedicating critical resources to the fight to pass Prop. 34 and replace California’s death penalty with justice that actually works. The Task Force passed a formal resolution against the death penalty in 1999 and continues to work to end the discriminatory and inhumane practice.

While LGBT and allied people around the country are working hard on issues of economic justice, choice, relationship recognition and voter suppression, we join them in an equally significant fight in the national arena.

Joining forces with our longstanding organizational partners the ACLU of Southern California and the California NAACP, along with our newest collaborator Amnesty International, we have dedicated a full-time 2012 organizing fellow (Malcolm) to this struggle that cuts across issues of class, race and gender.

In the past two months, two inmates have been exonerated from their death row sentences. We know that many innocent people have already been wrongly executed, and we must never take that risk again.

In our fight to lift up voices of opposition to the death penalty, we are working side by side with students from a diverse set of campuses, from UCLA and UC-Irvine to Occidental and East LA Community College. We are on the streets and campuses educating voters about our broken death penalty system, and ensuring that they are registered and planning to vote yes on Prop. 34 in November. They are often shocked to learn that the death penalty is costing our state critical time and money that could be dedicated to education, victim’s families and actually solving crimes.

In California, we are millions of dollars in debt, bogged down by flawed legal procedures and a drawn out appeals process. The state spends $130 million a year on death-row inmates in the state, who make up almost a quarter of the entire country’s death row population. Speeding up the legal process would likely result in the execution of innocent people, and several Supreme Court justices have stated that fixing this broken system is impossible. Our polling among students reveals that they are an energized, supportive base, which is why Malcolm has dedicated his time fully to engaging with these important issues on campuses.

The importance of Prop. 34 cannot be overstated. It is choosing life over death. It is choosing to reject false oppositions between mercy and safety, and following the harder route of true justice that is based on real facts and community needs. Prop. 34 saves our state money, and replaces a broken death penalty system with justice that works for everyone.