What the Governor does on Wednesday — and what California does — is courageous and civilized and more than a grand gesture.
It is a momentous achievement.
When our state resumed executions 27 years ago next month, we stepped backwards into a dark past of settling scores.
An eye for an eye is not justice.
We are not saying to turn the other cheek, when the offense involves taking a human life.
We must be steadfast, and look the killer in the eye.
We will demand punishment, seek rehabilitation and long for restoration.
We may not achieve that, but we must try.
Capital punishment, by contrast, is immoral.
It can only be counterproductive to kill people when you are trying to convince people that killing people is wrong.
We have wrapped capital punishment in a veneer of legal proceedings and peer judgment, but it remains, at heart, a form of ritual retribution.
The philosophical moral arguments against capital punishment are weighty. Practical considerations tilt the scales even further.
Practically speaking, we know that our justice system makes errors.
It is a human process and humans make mistakes, especially in groups.
But the death penalty is irreversible.
We have seen many cases of wrongful convictions reversed only after decades.
The most convincing exonerating evidence will not bring back a person who has been executed.
The costs of our broken capital punishment system — the financial costs — are also extensive and undeniable.
I may not convince even one death penalty advocate by what I say here.
The emotions that move the advocates are real, understandable and as strong as any human bond.
With time, however, our society will change its understanding of what is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment.
In a decision six decades ago, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “The Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”
The state I love and the government for which I am a leader now take a step that reveals that evolution and marks our maturity.
I commend Governor Gavin Newsom for this decision, putting California on the same path as other civilized governments of the world.