California Democratic Party endorses abolition of the death penalty
The Californian Democratic Party has decided to include the abolition of capital punishment in its political platform. California-based Elizabeth Zitrin, who represents Death Penalty Focus in the World Coalition, described the move as “critically important for our work toward abolition in the largest state in the USA, with the largest death row with 700 prisoners”.
The platform is a policy document updated by the political organisation every two years. The version adopted by the party’s convention on April 18 reads: “To promote safe communities, California Democrats will : (…) Replace the death penalty with a term of permanent incarceration, which will serve to protect the public, provide swift and certain justice for victims’ families, and save the state an estimated $1 billion over the next five year.”
Elections in November
While candidates are not required to adhere personally to every platform item, abolition will be the Democratic Party’s official line when elections take place in California later this year. The governor, lieutenant-governor and attorney general are among the posts up for renewal in November 2010. Democrats will try to snatch the governor’s seat from Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, and several Democratic contenders for the State’s top posts have said they oppose capital punishment.
“Now, being against the death penalty becomes the mainstream of the party, and those candidates and members supporting the use of capital punishment are out there on their own with just their personal position,” said Christine Thomas, who worked on the criminal justice “plank” of the party platform.
She added that the appointment of John Burton, who personally opposes the death penalty, as chair of the California Democratic Party helped the process.
“Critical support” from non-partisan abolitionists
Co-operation with non-partisan abolitionist organisations was also instrumental in achieving the policy change after more than ten years of efforts.
“The ACLU, Death Penalty Focus and California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty provided critical support to the party activists leading the effort,” said Natasha Minsker, Death Penalty Policy Director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California.
“We submitted reports and written statements in support of the change, we provided witnesses to speak at hearings and sent speakers to many Democratic club events across the state. We provided materials and resources for the activists, and connected the activists to each other across the state so that they could better coordinate their efforts,” she added.
Thomas recognised the essential contribution from abolitionist organisations. “By the time we had a Platform Committee meeting in San Diego, in November of 2009, there were comments from the majority of members remarking how many people were showing up to passionately testify about the death penalty,” she recalled.
Submissions from outside the party were taken into consideration when drafting the platform, and the resulting abolitionist language was convincing enough to survive party debates until the end of the process.