Well, Look At Us

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Every single day in my hometown, and without much incident, close to a million people get out of their beds, bathe, eat something and get themselves to work, or school, or somewhere else they believe to be worth getting to.

Some climb, (granted, with fingers crossed, perhaps), onto our city’s public transit system, called MUNI, or the regional transit system, called BART, or onto AMTRAK, or Caltrain, or into employer-provided buses, or their own cars, or bikes, or even walk; again, mostly without incident, to speak of. Now, MUNI can be insanely crowded, late and filthy. By all rights, there could be riots on the rails every day about some offense or other but there are just not. Mostly, my fellow San Franciscans and I get on, get off and get about our business.

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We go to workplaces and schools and studios and stores to buy food – or maybe eat out with our friends and families on Sunday nights, or special occasions. We’re productive, hardworking people, just like most people in most cities are, trying to do well by ourselves, our families and succeeding generations.

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In my hometown, we residents and our families originally come from places all over the globe – China, Russia, Italy, England, Cameroon, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Japan, Afghanistan, Vietnam and even Greece, like my family did. We’re Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, Sikhs, Muslims and Druids. And, miracle of miracles, there’s no faith-based violence to speak of – not even much evidenced expression of faith-based hatred, anger or enmity. And this isn’t because there’s no overt expression of religious belief or practice – there are more places of worship in San Francisco than bars (If you know anything about this city, you know that is a significant statistic.) – as some would have you believe.

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And we’re people of all genders and sexual orientations and identities. And – witness any public gathering – widely diverse aesthetics as well.

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This city – any large and diverse city – only works because we collectively agree to accept, appreciate, and even celebrate the diversity in which we live and pretty much let other people get on with their own lives as they themselves see fit.

(Go in peace, my brother.)

The fact that we try, day in and day out, is both extraordinary and startlingly common to all modern cities of any scale.  The fact that it works and has worked here for over 150 years, without widespread insanity and violence, day in and day out, is nothing short of absolutely miraculous.

There’s a lesson in this, for those who care to hear it.

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Death? No, thank you.

Here’s the list, the complete list: Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tonga, United States, Vietnam.

These are the world’s countries that still employ the savage practice of capital punishment. Proud of being part of that club?

In California, we have our own long and disgusting history of killing people, which started in 1778 when four native Americans were shot for conspiracy to commit murder after conviction by an all-white jury.

When shooting proved too unreliable and expensive, California adopted the gas chamber.

When gas also proved to be too unreliable and expensive, California adopted lethal injection as our tool of choice for state-sanctioned murder.

Nice. Clean. Clinical.

Albert Pierrepoint was the most famous of England’s official hangmen in the 20th century. During his active career as an executioner, which ran from 1931 to 1956, Pierrepoint was thought to have executed somewhere about 450 people and, later in his life, became quite philosophical about his line of work. In his 1974 autobiography, Pierrepoint wrote:

“I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people.”

In California, we have the opportunity to say no, to say enough, to say we want to join the other global club, the one of civilized countries who decline to use execution as a tool of control. An initiative to ban the use of the death penalty has qualified for the November ballot.

Here’s our chance to re-join civilized people everywhere. Or we can, you know, just continue on in the direction we’re already headed.