There are situations, Guantanamo comes to mind as an example, where even though you know it is bad, it is shocking when you find out just how bad.
California's Death Penalty system is one of those situations. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice does not, though it could have, linger on lurid details. But even in the absence of such details the picture it paints of routine injustice is mind boggling. Hundreds of people on Death Row without lawyers; hundreds of millions of dollars wasted; 70 percent of the death sentences upheld by the state found to be flawed by the higher courts; people waiting years to get legal assistance, the pitiful amount of money available for defending complex cases where someone's life is on the line and the huge amount of money wasted on a death system that has been repeatedly shown to be biased and untrustworthy. And on and on. You can feel the system straining under the weight of its own dysfunction.
And still we let it continue.
It's easy to think this is someone else's problem and that the people upon whom we visit these injustices deserve no better. But when I consider that we know that hundreds of innocent people have been sentenced to our prisons and death rows, across the country and here in California, it becomes even more terrifying. None of us should tolerate the possibility that the state might execute someone who is actually innocent. But given the imperfect nature of human judgment such an execution seems inevitable. I have met people falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, unjustly imprisoned. When I think about the hopelessness, the fear, the outrage they must have felt at being swallowed by an unfeeling system while the rest of us turned away I can hardly breathe. I marvel at their ability to emerge, not undamaged to be sure, but also not full of hate. I think all it takes some unlucky circumstances'a suspect who matches my description, a faulty eyewitness, an unethical prosecutor, an overwhelmed or under-prepared lawyer'and that innocent person in prison could be me. The sense of vulnerability is almost paralyzing, the fear runs deep. When we see other people as disposable we hasten the time when others will see us as disposable.
-- Eric Greene, special policy assistant, ACLU of Southern California