Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Stanley "Tookie" Williams

Mr. Williams founded the Crips, a nationally (or maybe globally) known gang, and was convicted or multiple murders. While on Death Row, he apparently made quite a contribution to society. He affected lives, changed minds, and created a legacy for himself beyond one of violence.

The California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had an opportunity to grant clemency, allowing Mr. Williams to avoid state execution, the governor declined. Stanley Williams was executed early, this morning.

I'm not for the death penalty, but I'm fine with framing the discussion in a way that reflects the reality of the U.S. justice system. The reality is that the death penalty exists. I'm not as interested in discussing the value of the death penalty as I am in discussing the value and scope of clemency.

I wonder if it's only for those who were innocent all along or who were convicted based on circumstantial evidence. I never got that impression before and those I've spoken with on the topic haven't corrected me, as far as I recall. So, I'm wondering if a person who finds a way to make an extraordinarily negative life into one that offers an extraordinary amount of positivity ought to be the poster boy for the value of clemency - or the kind of person to whom it should be granted.

Did the world gain more from Mr. Williams's death than it would have from his continued existence? We will never know. I think there's a strong argument to be made for either side.

On the one hand...

Kill people and then do great things and maybe, in rare instances, you'll be spared death by execution, and just live out your days in a state of incarceration. The world will see that lives can be turned around and even if that perception is false, the actions and results of those actions are real enough to make a difference and should be recognized as such. Kinda like politicians who do good things for people for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe this would encourage people to do the right thing, even if it's for the wrong reasons. In the end, we'll still have a better world than we had before.

On the other hand...

Kill people and then do great things and maybe, in rare instances, you'll be recognized as an example of how much a person can turn his or her life around, but unless there's an extremely good reason to doubt your guilt, you will still suffer death by execution. The lives you ended can't be replaced, even by your death, but the threat of execution, much like a parents' promise to punish a child's poor behavior, must consist of more than words.

People are often looking for lessons, even if they refuse to learn from them. In this case, people might "learn" that it's not worthwhile to turn your life around because you'll be executed, anyway.

Personally, I'd hoped Mr. Williams would make a statement saying that his works were performed because they were the right thing to do and that they were never meant to be used to barter for his freedom or existence. I hoped he'd tell others to continue to do the right thing BECAUSE it's the right thing and not to let his example dissuade them from that path. He didn't do that, though.

Throughout all of this, I've noted Mr. Williams's apparent silence. Silence is like darkness in that its substance is largely composed of the imaginations of those who perceive it. In other words, his silence may mean what I think it means or what you think it means or it may mean nothing, at all. Like I said, we'll never know, for sure.

Whatever it means, the message has been sent. Don't commit these types of crimes or you'll face the threat of execution. If you do, don't worry about turning your life around. In the end, it won't change your fate.

I believe the death penalty is about concern for self benefiting others. If Mr. Tookie was no longer a threat to others, we missed an opportunity for them to continue to benefit from his existence.

Your thoughts?


Domenick Bartuccio said...

It's really difficult to weigh the value of someone's life.

In the end, I don't see how anyone is better off with Tookie dead. the Crips are still the Crips, gang violence is still a problem and now there is one less person that had something to say about it.

West said...

I could imagine certain individuals feeling like they're better off, but as a whole, I think we may have diminished ourselves.

Scott said...

As my post on CBR stated, I have a lot of problems with the DP. I think Tookie's case illustrates another problem. If Tookie Williams, on Death Row, contributed to keeping just one kid out of the Crips or a like gang, or he was able to set just one kid who was tempted to turn to violence on the straight and narrow, then isn't it worth it to keep Tookie Williams around? People are acting like Tookie's actions after he was convicted don't make up for the murders for which he was convicted, but I don't think that's the point. Killing Tookie might not bring his victims back, but killing Tookie might create more victims, because there wasn't a Tookie Williams around to dissuade that one kid from jumping into a gang. In the end, isn't keeping Tookie around for the good that he can do better than killing him for the evil that he did?

West said...

scott: I thinkt that's a fair consideration. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be one some people are willing to seriously consider.

He can't bring anyone back from the dead, but there's other good he could do - regardless of why he's doing it.

We just sent the world a message. I'm guessing they picked it up loud and clear.

West said...

Scott's point (at CBR) about Blacks reminds me of certain parallels between this situation and the reparations one. I'm not trying to restart that debate, not here, anyway.

I just note that my problem with some opponents of Reparations is that the position kinda allows someone to keep putting off their punishment/payment and putting it off some more... until there's a convenient excuse not to ever suffer that punishment or payment. I don't think that's right.

NOW, here we are talking about someone being on Death Row and appealing so damned long that NOW he's a good or better person... and maybe shouldn't suffer that punishment or payment. Maybe that ain't right, either.

Just something I'm gonna think (and write) about. I thought I'd toss it out there for others to chew on, if they want to.