Murder Victims' Families Urge Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Losing a loved one to homicide is a devastating and life-changing event. In Oakland alone, 148 residents were murdered in 2006, leaving behind hundreds of family members and loved ones whose lives were forever changed.
As the Campaign Organizer for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CCV), I attend healing circles, support groups, and violence prevention conferences. At these events, I meet survivors of homicide, the victims who are left behind to cope with the loss of their loved ones.
I hear stories of unspeakable tragedies, mothers who have lost a child and, in some cases more than one child. Lorrain Taylor’s twin boys, Obadiah and Albade, were shot as they tried to fix their car on the side of a road in Oakland. They were just 22 years old. It’s been seven years since Obadiah and Albade were murdered and Lorrain still finds it difficult to speak about it.
Lorrain, like many survivors of homicide victims, does not think the death penalty will help her. “The death penalty can only enhance the pain and suffering of those left behind,” she says. “If we are to create a safer world and a stronger economy, the emphasis should be on violence prevention, education, conflict resolution, and youth employment. While it is best for the overall community that murderers get life without parole, it has never crossed my mind to add to his family’s pain by seeking the death penalty.”
California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a coalition of families, friends, and loved ones of murder victims who oppose the death penalty. The coalition supports families, friends, and loved ones in telling their stories and being heard. CCV members work to educate the public about alternatives to the death penalty and provide information, resources, and support to other families and friends of murder victims.
Some CCV members are opposed to the death penalty, but others simply feel that there are better alternatives for crime victims, such as life without parole. CCV members recognize that the death penalty process is a traumatizing experience for most families, often requiring them to relive the pain and suffering of the death of their loved one for many years. Life without the possibility of parole provides certain punishment without the endless reopening of wounds, allowing survivors to move on with their lives.
In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on the death penalty each year. Bringing an end to the death penalty in California would make millions of dollars available that could be spent on violence-prevention efforts, solving unsolved cases, and increasing victim services. Such programs would actually help meet the needs of victims and prevent people from becoming victims.
One of CCV’s most important goals is to provide a platform for the voices of victims who oppose the death penalty; a voice that often goes unheard. It's a common misconception that all victims want and support the death penalty but CCV members provide another perspective. Through their personal stories of loss, they help educate the community on alternatives to the death penalty.
LaShai Hickman of San Pablo is one of our newest members. Her son, Dominique Hickman, was just 17 when he bled to death on someone’s front lawn after being shot. Deputies in the area received two calls reporting gunshots around the time that Dominique was shot; they searched the area but reported nothing “suspicious.”
LaShai has struggled following her son’s murder. She didn’t qualify for bereavement leave and was forced to take time off work without pay. She didn’t receive any support from the Victim Compensation Fund because no one told her she was eligible. It’s been a little over three months since her son was killed and she is having a difficult time finding support groups to attend.
“I’ve attended a few support groups, some weren’t appropriate,” said LaShai. “It’s difficult to be part of a grief group where other participants don’t really know how to deal with the fact that my son was murdered. I did find a support group that was for the families of murder victims but that group only meets once a month. We have children being killed everyday; why are meetings happening only once a month? There are so many of us out here, isolated and suffering.”
Through CCV LaShai is able to connect with other survivors of homicide.
Sadly, LaShai is not alone in her feeling of isolation. In the years following her sons’ murders, Lorrain Taylor also witnessed great isolation among victims and saw that many practical needs were unmet. Today, Lorrain runs a monthly support group for victims of violent crime in Oakland and delivers food to victims’ homes.
Azim Khamisa is another CCV member who is making a difference locally and nationally. Azim’s son, a 20-year-old San Diego University Student was killed while delivering pizzas. He says "I decided to become an enemy not of my son's killer [Tony] but of the forces that put a young boy on a dark street holding a handgun. Tony now writes letters from prison that we use in our programs and that we see having a positive effect on other kids. Think of how many kids he may save. That is going to bring a lot more healing than if he had gotten the death penalty."
Azim is the co-founder, along with Ples Felix (Tony’s grandfather) of the Tariq Foundation, an organization that is committed to ending violence by implementing school based non-violence programs.
CCV invites the friends, families, and loved ones of murder victims to join us. There are many ways to be involved. Please visit our website www.californiacrimevictims.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 415 293-6382
California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a joint project of the ACLU of Northern California, Death Penalty Focus, and Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.
Maria Chavez is the Campaign Organizer for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty