For those who follow local politics, it was easy to get bogged down in any number of things last week. There was the City Council’s decision to ostensibly hope for the best when it came to the SDSU study that concluded that Blacks and Latinos are significantly more likely to be stopped and searched by San Diego police during traffic stops.
But I digress.
There was also the beef between City Attorney Mara Elliott and Councilmember Chris Cate who accused Elliott of “playing politics” when it came to her recommendation that the city sign on to an amicus brief supporting a suit filed by a transgender student in Virginia. There was certainly part of me that wanted to agree with Councilmember Chris Cate (who did not vote on the measure to support the brief) when he said that Elliott should “re-focus her efforts from chasing national policies to promoting public safety” locally, but I could also argue that Elliott’s role as the attorney for the City Council means that she should bring their attention to these types of national matters.
But, again, I digress.
I think what struck me the most this past week in local politics was Cate’s letter to Gov. Jerry Brown concerning the recent parole approval of Jesus Cecena. For those who don’t recall or who are too young to remember, back in November of 1978 Cecena brutally gunned down San Diego Police Officer Archie Buggs during what has been characterized as a routine traffic stop. He shot him six times to be exact. He was 17 years old, tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole until an appellate court modified the ruling in 1982 to give him the possibility of parole.
And now here we are in 2017. Cecena’s recent parole approval marks the third time since 2014 that the board has recommended he be released with Gov. Brown denying the request each time. Cate, along with fellow law-and-order thumpers and nearly every police organization in the state, are staunchly against Cecena getting out of prison. Cate’s position is certainly understandable given that his father is a veteran Highway Patrol officer. In his letter to Brown, Cate said he was “deeply disturbed” by the parole board’s decision and that Cecena “continues to pose an unreasonable risk to our community.”
But, really, does he? I understand that the very notion of releasing a convicted cop killer seems completely ridiculous, but isn’t it the job of the parole board to distinguish whether Cecena still poses a risk? And if he did still pose a risk, do you think the board would approve his parole not once, not twice, but three times? The reality is that Cecena is now a 55-year-old man with bad knees and, after a religious conversion in the ‘80s, hasn’t had a single disciplinary offense in prison since 1987.
Now, before readers fly off the handle, please know this: I do not support the release of Cecena. Sorry, but it’s just too early. However, as someone who believes in redemption and forgiveness, I do not think that Cecena should “rot” forever (as one commenter on a message board put it) nor do I subscribe to the notion that the parole board approved Cecena’s release simply to free up room in our overcrowded prison system.
This is a complicated issue, and please bear in mind that the person writing this is someone who has contributed funds to organizations like the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, which financially assists families of fallen soldiers and officers. I understand the motivation to say “hell no” when it comes to granting freedom to murderers, but I also believe that people, even the ones that seem the most heinous, are capable of changing.
Councilmember Cate is certainly not wrong in his opinion, but to characterize a man as an “unreasonable risk” for the actions he committed when he was 17 is unfair. While we embrace movies such as The Shawshank Redemption and Dead Man Walking, why do we find it unfathomable that a man could commit one of the most horrible crimes imaginable, spend nearly 40 years in prison, and not be redeemed?
After some soul-searching, I count myself among those who believe that Cecena should not be released. However, I also think that we should never be so quick to judge those who seek mercy and forgiveness, however despicable their past actions might be.