Thursday, December 01, 2005

Stanley "Tookie" Williams, a convicted killer and founding member of the Crips street gang, is apparently headed for an execution date of December 17th after having exhausted his appeals with the California Supreme Court.
Williams, like a few other death row inmates, has done a lot of good, charitable work since being placed on death row, speaking out against gang violence and writing children's books, the proceeds from which go to organizations which combat gang violence. Williams was convicted in 1981 for having killed an immigrant couple and their daughter while stealing cash from their motel.
Steanso, to be honest, is not sure what to make of the death penalty. It seems like a truly horrible thing, but then again, the crimes which people commit that get them executed are typically equally horrible. There's the argument to be made that the government makes mistakes and occasionally executes the wrong person, but that doesn't really end the argument, because death penalty proponents will still want to use execution in so-called "airtight" cases (which involve multiple eyewitnesses, videotape, DNA evidence, etc.).
The death penalty definitely leaves a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach, but how would I feel if one of my family members or close friends were killed? Then again, maybe we shouldn't be basing our decisions regarding justice on the emotional demands of a group of people who simply want venegeance. Then again, maybe we shouldn't discount the death penalty as a rational and just form of punishment just because it makes us feel very uncomfortable.
I guess that at the end of the day, I oppose the death penalty mostly because it scares me to think that the government has the right to kill anyone. The government does make mistakes, and it's machinery is susceptible to all of the errors and flaws that come with any large, decision-making body (and in my opinion, groups often tend to come to the easiest decisions, but not necessarily the correct ones). Furthermore, execution by the government tends to make everyone responsible for the execution, which in the end makes no one responsible for it. I'm not sure we're as careful as we should be when there is no one person that we can point to as being responsible for the taking of a life.
I'm also just not sure that the taking of human life should be in the government's job description, period (except in defense of our society, which, I guess [damnit] criminal execution arguably could be a form of....)

Plus, there are questions about what makes a life worth something, or alternately, what makes it worth nothing?
Tookie Williams has done some very bad things. He has killed innocent people who were just trying to make a life for themselves. He should definitely be punished, and punished quite severely. He should almost certainly never again be given the freedom to live a life outside of prison.
But should he be denied the opportunity to continue to exist, especially if he's now doing some good for his community for the first time in his life? (and, yes, I'm aware of the possibility that he may just be trying to save his own skin, but that neither diminishes the practical benefits of his contributions nor precludes the possibility that he may undergo a genuine change in his belief structure as a result of his charitable work).
It still comes back to those victims who never got a chance to decide their own fate, though, doesn't it?
It's been said that vengeance is a lazy form of grief. But that's easier to say when it's not your family member lying dead of a gunshot wound in a parking lot.
So Steanso is confused by the death penalty, and the case of Tookie Williams highlights many of the issues that make it confusing.
Enough for now.
I know it's an age old debate, but I don't think that makes it less worthy of discussion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right. It's a very difficult, heavy thing. And the more you think about and become aware of the issues, the more difficult it becomes.