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Counterpunch

Sutherland Needs to Be Tougher on Crime

September 06, 1993|STEVEN P. DUNN | Dunn, who works in commercial real estate, is a sixth-generation Californian and a third-generation Angeleno. and

The second half of Susan King's article on Kiefer Sutherland's film "Last Night" showcased the actor's opinion on capital punishment ("Directing's No Jail for This Actor," Calendar, Aug. 17).

While Sutherland espoused some very interesting points, I think he has perhaps let the visual horror of the gas chamber shape his views rather than the reality of life in America today, especially right here in Los Angeles.

I agree with him that the methods and systems with which the death penalty are implemented are ridiculous. These are costly, outdated procedures that need immediate change.

However, he argues that the death penalty is not a deterrent, pointing out the ever-rising crime wave. Yet in California the fact remains that the reason the death penalty is not a violent crime deterrent is due to the virtual non-reality of the death penalty itself. Convicted murderers are sentenced to death every year in California, but does the public ever see or hear about a death penalty actually being carried out?

Robert Alton Harris was executed last year for the senseless execution-style murder of two San Diego boys. That was the first actual carried-out death penalty in 25 years in California.

Multiple killer David Edwin Mason was executed less than two weeks ago, but only because he chose not to put up a further legal fight to stay out of the gas chamber.

Everyone in this state knows that the death penalty sentence carries little or no weight because, with few exceptions, it has no real meaning. If you murder someone today in Los Angeles, it amounts to maybe life in jail, but more likely a 15- to 20-year sentence with the possibility of parole in eight years. Is that a deterrent? Obviously not.

If mass murderers were executed in a timely fashion, would that send a message? Definitely not to the lunatic fringe, but it probably would prompt a powerful second thought among the trigger-happy carjackers and thugs.

Sutherland's idea of using death-sentence funding for foster-care programs is great, and we should start something like that immediately, but what about the generation for whom such a program would be too late? There are more monsters roaming the streets than ever. What do we do about them? Our prisons are overflowing, forcing the state to put hard-time criminals back on the streets faster than they can convict them.

Sutherland says that he resents the fact that the death penalty isn't put to a majority vote. Countless polls, including those taken in the most crime-threatened neighborhoods, reveal the overwhelming majority supports the death penalty. Inner-city residents are the ones most likely to witness and live with the fear of violent crime. Until you've witnessed violent crime or suffered the senseless, intentionally violent loss of a friend or relative, it's impossible to truly know the feeling of wanting justice and vindication.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, as were my parents, and I have witnessed what has happened to this city. I live in the same beautiful neighborhood now as I did growing up, and Kiefer Sutherland happens to be one of my neighbors.

In the 1970s and early '80s, the streets of this neighborhood were packed with kids from large, young families. They've been replaced by young entertainment executives and actors such as Sutherland, many of whom have beach houses or Montana ranches in which to escape and/or raise their children. This once-great neighborhood may never again see the days of kids playing stickball in the street because its residents live in fear. Only those who can afford alternate residences can afford to live in this neighborhood now, and those limited few are basically those Hollywood people mentioned above, which leads me to my final point.

Ever since the recent presidential elections, several high-profile actors and actresses have been espousing their political views and beliefs, especially since Bill Clinton won the election. They have become the voice for all of Hollywood (wanted or not), taking on a wide range of issues. But rarely, if ever, are they heard on what can be done to turn this city away from its disastrous plunge into violent crime and economic deprivation.

Let's get real, Kiefer and friends. We've got big problems right here and it's time to face them. Strengthening our justice system, and using the death penalty in a fair but realistic way, would be one place to start.

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