On January 10th, 2004, my world turned upside down. At 11:45pm, I got a call from my son Terrell’s friend Eric stating that he had been shot. I rushed to the scene and was met by a cop who said that it didn’t look good; the paramedic was transporting him to UCLA. Terrell, a 19-years-old freshman at Humboldt State University, died that night.
Although there were close to 50 people out there the night he was murdered, no one was willing to come forward and say what they saw. With no witnesses and no murder weapon recovered, the police never identified Terrell’s murderer. My family and I were left without justice, wondering, each day, why this tragic incident occurred….while the killer walks free.
Unfortunately, my story isn’t uncommon. According to a recent report by California Crime Victims for Alternative to the Death Penalty, The Silent Crisis in California: Unsolved Homicides, 1,000 murders go unsolved each year in California. In Los Angeles County, 54% of murders are unsolved.
We have a public safety crisis on our hands.
Part of it can be blamed on a culture of not “snitching” because of fear of retaliation. But a large part can be blamed on a lack of resources for law enforcement to investigate and find witnesses who are willing to come forward.
According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, the LAPD is forcing its officers to put cases on hold and take days, even weeks off due to overtime cuts. Detective Nate Kouri, one of the LAPD’s most productive homicide investigators, was unable to work on any cases, old and new, for six weeks.
Yet, while we watch police officers forced to sit idle because of budget cuts, rape kits left untested, and state crime labs close, we continue to throw hundreds of millions of dollars away on a death penalty that everyone agrees is broken.
We currently spend $137 million per year on the 700 inmates on death row. If we converted these sentences to permanent imprisonment, we would save $1 billion in just 5 years.
Permanent imprisonment is a safe, swift, cost-effective alternative to the death penalty. Not only does it get killers off of our streets forever, it frees up valuable resources for solving murders and imprisoning tens of thousands of killers.
Although there have been many studies on the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent, the results have been inconclusive. We do know, however, that catching killers is the best deterrent. Those who get away with murder learn that they can.
By shifting limited public safety resources away from the death penalty and towards solving every murder, we can achieve justice for all crime victims. Not just symbolism for a few.
By Aqeela Sherrills, Southern California Outreach Coordinator, California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty