Isaac Espinoza's Sad Legacy

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Isaac Espinoza, 1974-2004
Most of us never met Isaac Espinoza, but we owe him more than we can say. In 2004, the 29-year-old decorated cop was pointlessly gunned down by David Hill, a young man with a lengthy criminal history. 

Espinoza repeatedly turned down cushier beats than Bayview. His devotion to the notion of quality police work kept him coming back. By all accounts, he was an exemplary cop. Those who knew him will remember this and much, much more. Always. But those who didn't will remember Espinoza for other reasons.

Millions of Republican dollars are pouring into the state Attorney General's race targeting Kamala Harris because the San Francisco District Attorney chose not to pursue the death penalty against Hill, Espinoza's killer. The murderer received consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole; he'll never be a free man again.

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David Hill
Espinoza will forever stand as the human reminder of what happens when politicians don't make the politically expedient move to pursue the death penalty. For whatever purpose the death penalty serves, make no mistake: Killing people burnishes politicians' ability to harness the popular will and claim the mantle of being "tough on crime" in ways that more nuanced policy decisions never will. Pursuing executions makes for good politics, on the statewide level. In any state.

There does exist a worldview in which the death penalty is abhorrent. Civilized nations that have abolished the death penalty enjoy murder rates far lower than our own. This is not an extremist way of seeing things. In Harris' case, she campaigned as an opponent of the death penalty; her position on the issue was well-known before voters elected her to office.

The Police Officer Association's anger Hill won't face death is understandable -- but the notion that Harris should have suddenly abandoned her professed ideals under political pressure is less so.

Politicians will take note of what is happening now. In the future, rather than face scrutiny over death penalty decisions, future accused killers will be sent to the death house. You could make a good argument that many of them deserve it. But they're not dying so much because they're awful people or this is the true meaning of justice but because it's an easy political sell. That's the wrong reason to decide on life or death matters.

Rest in peace, Isaac Espinoza. Truly, you deserved so much more.

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