Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tookie and the Death Penalty

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed this morning in California, and that's a good thing. While I will add my own commentary, I must refer the handful of people who actually read my blog to my friend Kirk's thoughts on this episode: http://kirkdawg.blogs.friendster.com/my_blog/2005/12/it_took_long_en.html. I find myself agreeing with Kirk's points.

It may surprise some people to know that I'm a supporter of the death penalty. I know it doesn't deter many people, if any, from committing heinous crimes. I look at the death penalty as society's just vengeance for heinous crimes, particularly murder. As a Christian, I know we are supposed to the turn the other cheek, and not take an eye for an eye. Perhaps it is my fallibility as a human being that leads me to still demand vengeance for those who have been murdered. I do, however, want to be sure that the right people are executed. I don't mind the lengthy appeals that death penalty cases undergo, because it increases the likelihood that mistakes will be caught before it is too late. In any case where DNA could come into play, testing should be required. Evidence should be safeguarded until the execution is completed.

With the sensitivity of forensic testing today, there's no excuse for not having every rock looked under to be sure we have the right perp. Once we are as certain as possible that we have the guilty party, if a jury finds for death, death should be the punishment barring any legal errors.
Mr. Williams, aka "Tookie", was one of the founders of the Crips. Together with the Bloods gang, the Crips have been responsible for an untold amount of crime, violence, and murder. These gangs have chapters all across the nation, luring young men of color into a life of crime, drugs, and violence. Of course, if society presented young men of color with adequate opportunities for legitimate self-improvement and a way out of abject poverty, gangs wouldn't have any members. However, just because we have allowed the circumstances that lead to gangs does not mean we should excuse gang violence.

Tookie (what kind of nickname is that anyway?!?) protested his innocence of the murders throughout. There are the usual charges of ineffective counsel, flimsy evidence, etc. Since Tookie exhausted all possible appeals, I can only conclude that there was no legal error in the trial and that the verdict was just. I haven't read the trial transcript, and I certainly didn't sit on the jury. The fact remains he was found guilty of 4 murders, and as a Crips "founder", he's likely responsible for God-only-knows how many more.

I'm uncertain why his case became a cause celebre around the world, and especially in Hollywood. Is it because he "found God" and decided to renounce gang violence and write children's books on the matter? If so, that's a lovely gesture on his part to try to undo some of the damage he did when free. I'm glad Tookie discovered that gang violence leads to no where anyone intelligent would want to go. Yet he takes no responsibility for the murders he committed, and seemed to be playing the race card in his attempt at clemency.

Death Row is not a rehab camp. It's a place you go while waiting to die. If a murderer finds Jesus, Mohammed, or whomever while there, good for them. It doesn't change what they did or the punishment for it. God will forgive them of the murders; society doesn't have to. Besides, if you truly believe in the Christian message, you know you'll go straight to heaven upon execution anyway. I don't see how living in prison the rest of your natural life is better than seeing the Savior post haste.

I don't mean to be glib, but I'm highly suspicious of death row conversions. If they are sincere, I'm happy for the condemned. But just because you've become a changed person on death row doesn't mean you should be granted mercy. Tookie's case did not warrant Gov. Arnold's intervention. From the reports this morning on the Today Show, Tookie was quite defiant even to the end. They apparently had trouble finding a vein for the lethal injection, which is something that should have been done before he was brought to the death chamber.

I'm disturbed but not exactly surprised that the YDA Minority caucus sponsored a resolution that was adopted in Phoenix to ask for mercy for Tookie. It seems all the partners of Democrats (NAACP, etc) were all asking that Gov. Arnold commute his sentence. I understand people who take a principled stand against the death penalty. It is unevenly applied, and if you're black, you're more likely to get sentenced to death than if you are white, even if you commit the same crime. People who are poor in this country, black or white, rarely have the effective assistance of counsel. There are many fine public defenders in this country, but they are overloaded and overwhelmed by the system. Money, as OJ Simpson and Micheal Jackson have proved, can buy you freedom. I doubt that Tookie was prosecuted simply because he was black. If you believe the system is hopelessly corrupt or broken, then fight to change it; fight for a moratorium so that the system can be fixed as best as possible. Individuals come with their own baggage, and Tookie had a full set. Like Kirk, I wonder if the press and Hollywood would have been so quick to jump on the "forgiveness" bandwagon had Tookie been a white supremacist, Neo-Nazi who had murdered 4 people of color but later recanted his beliefs on death row. If the answer is no, as I suspect it is, then Tookie's supporters are guilty of gross hypocrisy.

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