The SAFE California Act: ‘No Thank You’

By Kevin Cooper

I have been asked what I think about “The SAFE California Act,” which is being pushed as a real alternative to this state’s death penalty. I have been asked by activists, death row inmates, and certain family members of death row inmates. I have also asked myself this same question. After all, it is our future which is being voted on by the people of California in November 2012.

I must add this. At no time was I, or to my knowledge, any man or woman who resides on death row within this state asked our opinion about the SAFE California Act by the sponsors of this initiative, the people who bank rolled it, or the people who collected signatures in support of it. I wonder why that is? I am personally against this initiative, and I do not support it for a couple different reasons. First and foremost, this ‘Act’ is just another version of the death penalty. We who will be affected by it will still be living in inhumane conditions. We who are on death row will also lose our legal habeas and habeas appeal process that we have and are currently entitled to under the law. So we are in fact taking a step backwards in our ability to challenge our convictions. We are also having to take our fight for our collective human rights to another level. What I mean by this is, Level IV prisons within the State of California are some of the worst prisons in the world! They are worse than death row in the violence that takes place, in the lack of programs, including educational programs, they stay on lockdown, and many families cannot get to these isolated prisons to visit their loved ones. I also look at this through the historical eyes of how people of African descent have been continually locked up within this country. For example, those of us who know the truth about this country’s history, and acknowledge this truth have to admit the following . . .

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law freeing the Slaves, he did not free any person who was duly convicted of a crime. He left them in Slave status. There has never been an amendment to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in order to change this Constitution. Therefore, here in the 21st Century, every Man, Woman, and Child who has been duly convicted of a crime is still a Slave, and is living in the same status as a Slave. What does this have to do with the SAFE California Act? This 21st Century Act requires, just as Slavery did in the 18th and 19th centuries did, that we who are imprisoned under this Act will have to work for basically nothing. Any money that we make, the majority of it will be taken from us against our will and given to the state. Any money that our family, friends, or attorney(s) may give us, money that is not even ours, will not all be given to us, because the majority of it will be given to the state without our permission as well! This is not fair to our families, who are poor people, as we are! “Isn’t taking our families’ and friends’ money and giving it to the state without their permission called theft?” We are expected to live the rest of our natural lives under these conditions. My ancestors had to do (LWOP), life without parole, on the thousands of plantations in this country back in the day. They didn’t like it then, and I ain’t going to like it now!! These modern day prisons are just as nasty and inhumane as the plantations of yesteryear, and just as deadly. The system and the people who run and control them are just as cold hearted, and unforgiving as any plantation owner or overseer. Yet, we are told that times have changed! This lock them up and throw away the key mentality is as old and as cold as this country. If this becomes the law of this state, we cannot expect for it to change, we will be out of sight and out of mind. Whenever that happens, human beings in our situation always have their human rights violated by the powers that be! “Please” don’t get me wrong, as I have my say concerning this SAFE California Act. I am not ‘for’ Capital Punishment either! But, I do know that there has be be a better way to end Capital Punishment within this state than the SAFE California Act.

As a person who reads and studies African American history, I can honestly say to you that this is deja vu, history is repeating itself with this Act. The vast majority of Slaves felt that life on those plantations was a fate worse than death. I wholeheartedly agree, because life within this modern day plantation is too! But, not only are we to spend the rest of our lives living and working in this place called hell, we are going to have to pay for it with our own monies as well! To this, and all else within that SAFE California Act, I say “No Thank You!”

Kevin Cooper was sentenced to death in 1985 and maintains his innocence. In 2008, five federal judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals signed an 82-page dissenting opinion that begins: “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.” 565 F.3d 581 He has exhausted all his legal remedies and should the lethal injection litigation settle in California, Kevin is one of the 14 currently in line for imminent execution barring the governor and California Supreme Court granting him a pardon or clemency. Don’t miss the recently released true crime story: “Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper” by J. Patrick O’Connor, editor and publisher of Crime Magazine. Available online through major booksellers.