Monday, November 28, 2005

Fool of a Tookie

Stanley "Tookie" Williams is on death row in California, having exhausted all appeals, is looking at a visit to the death chamber at San Quentin on December 13, 2005. Unless, of course, Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger decides to spare him. Of course, Williams would be in jail the rest of his life, but it would still be justice, right?

Let's look at the reasons for cutting him some slack. Tookie has become a reformed individual in prison, and has written children's books to discourage gang membership. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for such work. His supporters, mainly actors from the Hollywood elite, such as noted death pentaly opponent Mike Farrell, make clear that he is a "changed man". And the infamous 9th Circuit Court of Appeals indicated that while it is not in their power to grant clemency (a rare exercise of judicial restraint on their part) that Mr. Williams may indeed be a candidate for clemency. Maybe so. And if anyone can think of any other reason which has been offered for clemency, please post a comment on it.

But let's look at reality. He killed four people. He has been suspected of directing gang activity from prison. He continues to hang with the gang members in prison. He co-founded the Crips, a notorious drug-running street gang with nationwide influence that threatens inner-city stability. Worst yet, the ball that he started rolling is something he cannot stop. He created a culture of violence and death. Tookie Williams helped to create an inner city where young men make money by selling drugs and enforcing territory rights to do so by gun battles and drive-by shootings. His efforts have created more drug users by making drugs more available, ruined the lives of victims caught in the crossfire, ruined families, ruined entire neighborhoods, and ruined the stupid youth who join up only to have shortened lives or lives behind bars. And if anyone expects the gang members to abandon their oxymoronic "honor codes" which substitute for real families and the cash that can be made from working in a gang selling drugs, they're nuts. Ship the children's books off to the members. Let's see how well it works.

The Nobel nominations are nothing to consider. The fact alone that Yasir Arafat won one, coupled by the fact that he won it for something that ultimately increased violence should make clear enough that something is askew with the members of the Nobel Committee. It is a political award, not one for objective accomplishments.

And he is loved by the cousin to the Nobel Committee, Hollywood. It even made a movie about him called "Redemption". But there is something just a little intellectually troubling about Tookie's own point of view compared with d those of his supporters. Mike Farrell calls Tookie's crimes "heinous", but celebrity after celebrity fawns over what a changed man he is. But if you ask Tookie, he did nothing wrong. He denies committing the murders for which he was convicted. So now we have a problem. Mike Farrell associates Tookie with crimes he denies committing. But then he calls him a changed man. So if Farrell thinks Tookie is a changed man, how changed can he be if he denies crimes where the evidence pointed squarely at him? On the other hand, if Farrell believes in Tookie's innocence, then what is there to change? There's no question that Tookie was a "bad dude". But being "bad" isn't a crime. Being a gang member is not a crime. The inconsistency of it all is astounding. But I think their preoccupation with their politics has eliminated any possibility that the Hollywood left would be affected by the cognitive dissonance created by the difference between their position and that of Tookie. Their main focus is that he has changed. But forgetting the fact that Tookie denies the murders, that argument also fails.

Longevity is not a reason to spare him. In the Florida or Texas system, appeals must be heard and decided in a short period of time, and barring a commuting of a sentence or reversal of a verdict, the death penalty is often carried out in short order. California, because of glutted court dockets and overburdened public defenders has no such deadlines for death penalty appeals. So one has the opportunity--as the rest of us do--to enjoy the benefits of mellowing with age. If one is executed promptly, there is little time for repentance, as we saw with Timothy McVeigh, who went to death remorseless.

But a jury does not and should never consider future epiphanies when handing down a death sentence. The sentence is about the criminal acts committed, not the fact that the bad guy may think differently about his acts later on. And while it is good for a wrongdoer to change and choose a lawful path, same is not laudable, but rather a minimum expectation of the social contract. And while Williams sees that some of the things he did were evil, it does not bring back his victims who were mercilessly blown apart by his shotgun. And he should not be rewarded for mellowing, which is more of a biological function, not a character change.

There is plenty of room to debate this matter, but Williams has done nothing to show that his life would be any different were he released. Token efforts to discourage gang membership aside, we have a guy who behaves in jail in similar ways as he did on the outside. But a lot of that energy has gone away with youth. And that's not a change, that's a decline.

A jury decided his penalty in 1981. It is time that the Governor of California behave as his predecessor, Gray Davis did. For all of his worthlessness, Davis never commuted a sentence. The jury got it right. Let's not replace their judgment with our own because it might feel good.

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