Saturday, November 26, 2005

Death And Taxes

STATE / Governor agrees to Williams hearing / Convicted killer gets closer to possible clemency

Without commenting on whether I'm for or against the death penalty, I'd like to ask whether Williams's change of heart and subsequent anti-gang crusading could ever, for even a minute, change what he helped found and the hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths resulting from his gang alone.

I find it hard to give him too much credit for unleashing that kind of horror on thousdands of urban youth and the victims of their crimes.

I also wonder if star power is all that is required to get through to our star governor.


ajit said...

If there is a case that shows why clemency should be granted, it is this one. First of all, people need to understand that he has apologized for his founding of the Crips, something that certainly can't make up for the gang's activities, but is a start.

Second, the work he has done over the last decade has helped to save thousands of children from joining gangs. This is something that few on the outside could attest to doing. The credibility he has as a co-founder of the Crips allows him to make significant change, as we have seen in his ability to help create peace protocols.

Third, and i know this isn't the best argument, if Williams didn't create the Crips, someone else would have. This is certainly not an excuse, but I think that people DO give him too much credit for creating the first mega-gang. Gangs existed before the Crips, and would certainly have formed regardless of Williams' activities. For him and others, it was a matter of survival.

Fourth, we should also be more vigilant about the truth of the actual crimes he committed. The evidence, at best, is weak. The testimonies came from people whose backgrounds were less than honest, many of who received reduced sentences for their cooperation with the police. And of course, Williams maintains his innocence, even as death stares him straight in the eye.

Fifth, the trial itself also shows some of the greater flaws of the death penalty. the trial was moved from Los Angeles to Torrance, an area that in the early 80s, and arguably now, was considered hostile to African-Americans. Next, most of the blacks were struck from the jury. Lastly, the prosecutor used language that was at the least, racially motivated, as he compared Williams to a Bengal Tiger and South Central to the natural habitat of a tiger.

Sixth, we have to ask ourselves if we as a society would be better without Williams. I personally don’t think so, as his work while in prison has done so much, but others might disagree. Clearly though, one can’t look only at his past deeds as justification for his execution – clemency is here for a reason.

doughnut70 said...

You might be correct in your comments about Arnold, but the bigger subject of course is the death penalty which I have always been against on general moral grounds (Something along the lines of "there but for the grace of god go I").

But something I didn't know until recently was how many people on death row are completely different in a controlled environment.

I think most people have always realized that anyone who commits a murder is mentally ill in some fashion and generally comes from a background of serious abuse.

But I also think it is significant that a large number of these people are not only able to survive behind bars, but to become productive human beings.

Robert Stroud, the so called "Birdman of Alcatraz" is probably the most prominent example, but there are many, many others and I think too often they are ignored by the rest of society.

Inmates on death row have produced art, written books and perhaps more importantly, come up with new and creative ideas in many fields from medicine to Industrial Engineering to law enforcement that have helped the rest of us in many different ways.

Stanley "Tookie" Williams may well be a fraud, but that doesn't change the fact that many convicted murderers are not and since I would like to dream that maybe someday we can find the answer to eliminating violent crime and think that perhaps these people whose lives have changed in a controlled environment might be a significant part of the answer, I hope he winds up getting pardoned.

Of course, for supporters of the death penalty, the reform of people behind bars doesn't change the fact that someone that also could have lived a full and productive life and contributed a lot to society is gone and it should be acknowledged again that whether Williams is a fraud or truly reformed, nothing can ever replace the people who are gone, not to society in general or more specifically to their loved ones. Any human being dying unnecessarily is a tragic loss for everyone.

In the end a lot of the decision about where people stand on the death penalty tends in my opinion to come down to whether or not someone believes in retributive justice. I do not, but that is clearly an individual decision based on personal moral views.

I would point out to anyone who supports the death penalty that a lot of the people who kill, hate their lives now and kill because they see themselves going out in what they consider to be a blaze of glory. They view it as a kind of a final giving of the finger to the rest of the world. Virtually every study of the mind of mass murderers shows these people have incredible problems with their own self image.

I think the loss of that sense of glory in murder is one reason why societies that no longer have the death penalty don't see any large rise in violent crime and in fact some criminologists (academicians can be found on both sides of this argument), would argue that they see instead a large decline in the number or murders and violent crimes committed.

One thing I would also say about Stanley Williams specifically and again this is just a personal opinion, is that it has always bothered me how we depersonalize the people on death row and at the very least, when someone like Williams gets attention from society and specifically from prominent people who are celebrities (including the Governor), it reminds the rest of us that these are human beings believed by any practicing Christians to be descended from Adam and Eve just like everyone else. There clearly is and always will be a bond that connects us and much as we might like to pretend that they don't exist, there is a connection between us.

It is also a reminder if you have a social conscience that whatever went wrong to change this person (or relative if you will) into a violent killer, we all need to work harder in the future to stop it from happening to other people because there is a lot of damage to all of us from the crime, not just the victims or the perpetrators.