Gavin Newsom has signed an executive order sparing the lives of more than 700 death row inmates, saying "the death penalty is an abject failure." The move was immediately criticized by President Donald Trump.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on Wednesday that put a moratorium on executions. Addressing onlookers and reporters after signing the order, Newsom spoke in personal terms about wrongful conviction and sentencing disparity based on race and class.
Newsom lauded judicial progress, but also addressed the fact that California has the largest death row population in the Western Hemisphere. He called the death penalty an "abject failure" and a waste of taxpayer money.
To make his point, Newsome said that California could: "line up human beings every single day for execution for two-plus years; line people up for execution, premeditated state-sponsored executions, one a week, for over 14 years. That's a choice we can make. Or we can make a more enlightened choice — to advance justice in a different way."
'Would not be able to sleep at night'
Citing a National Academy of Sciences study estimating that 1 death row prisoner in 25 is innocent, Newsom said he "would not be able to sleep at night" knowing that 30 innocent people would be killed if California were to execute all of its 737 death row inmates.
Although he said there are innocent people on death row, he was also clear that there are guilty people on death row, and that they would still be held to account for their actions.
Yet, he added: "We do not want to join Saudi Arabia. We don't want to perpetuate what's happening in North Korea, we don't want to be part of what's happening in Iran, Iraq and China, in Somalia, Pakistan and Egypt," before he called on California to abolish the death penalty altogether.
Newsom pointed out that the United States ranked sixth behind those countries in the number of people it executed each year.
State does not have the right to kill
Newsom also spoke of the difficulty he had in making the decision, yet in summation he concluded that the state does not have the right to kill a person, saying, "I know a lot of people think an eye for an eye, but if you rape we don't rape. And I think if someone kills, we don't kill. We're better than that."
The governor also announced that the state was repealing its lethal injection protocol, as well as dismantling its death chamber in San Quentin prison "as I speak."
Read more: Opinion: The right to life is inviolable
Push back from a big death penalty advocate
One fan of the death penalty, President Donald Trump, criticized Newsom's decision and released a tweet stating that the decision defied voters. He was referencing a 2016 vote, when a narrow majority chose to speed executions.
Trump gained notoriety in 1989 when he took out full-page ads in New York papers calling for the execution of five teenagers accused and later convicted of beating and raping a white woman in Central Park.
When the men, four of them black and one Hispanic, were released after the true perpetrator confessed to the crime 13 years later, Trump stood by his call and has refused to apologize to this day.
Most recently, he praised China's excessive use of the death penalty for drug offenses, touting it as a great deterrent.
Currently, 30 US states have the death penalty, and 20 do not. Eight of the 20 without have abolished the law since 2000. Four death penalty states, Oregon, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and now California, are under gubernatorial moratoria. California executed its last prisoner in 2006, under then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.