Catholic San Francisco


(Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

Julio Escobar, coordinator of the archdiocese’s restorative justice office, left, with death-penalty activist and actor Mike Farrell, center, and Marlene Enderlein, a volunteer with Comunidad San Dimas, a local prison youth ministry.

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Speaker: Death penalty ‘ultimate insult to human dignity’
October 4th, 2016
By Christina Gray

Anti-death-penalty activist and actor Mike Farrell opened up the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Reentry Conference and Resource Fair on Oct. 1, telling his audience why he considers the death penalty “the ultimate insult to human dignity.”

“I’ve come to see the death penalty as the lid on the garbage can of the criminal justice system,” he said. “Once we take that lid off people will have to look into this rotten, stinking, maggot-infested mess that is this system and do something about it.”

The one-day conference hosted by the archdiocese’s restorative justice office included a series of panel discussions with faith leaders, city and county criminal justice experts, lawyers and judges, anti-death penalty activists, homelessness and mental-health experts and others working in restorative justice. Over 30 exhibitors offered resources.

The former “MASH” cast member filled in at the last minute for death-penalty opponent St. Joseph Sister Helen Prejean, who had to cancel her keynote appearance to attend to her dying sister.

After decades of volunteer work with recovering addicts, alcoholics and “thieves and whores” who reclaimed their lives, Farrell said he saw that all human beings want the same things, “love, attention and respect.” Those raised without those things can spend a lifetime seeking it in destructive ways.

As president of the board of Death Penalty Focus, a death penalty alternative organization, Farrell is campaigning in support of Proposition 62, The Justice That Works initiative on the 2016 ballot.

“Anyone that looks seriously at the death penalty in this country cannot escape knowing it is racist in application, used primarily against the poor and poorly defended, and expensive – 18 times more expensive here in California than life without parole – and it often entraps and kills the innocent.”

Most of us “don’t know the ugly stuff,” said Farrell, but those who do take a serious look at the process, “they know.” Police and prosecutors rationalize and argue, sometimes even admitting they know the truth, he said. But they say it’s the law.

“And it is the law,” said Farrell. But laws can be changed when we learn that they don’t work are in fact, doing more harm than good.

“That’s what we need to do with this one,” he said, because too many people don’t understand the harm the death penalty does to all of us.

“There is an inevitable, inescapable consequence associated with the taking of a human life,” he said. “The person being killed pays a price, of course, but what price is paid for those doing the killing? What is the cost to the society that hires people to kill for them? The moral cost.”

From October 6, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

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