See ya in hell, Tookie

Well, I had avoided writing about this since I knew it hadn’t reached the consciousness of those outside California, and because the rapid pace of potential changes in the process. But, now it looks certain that Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams will be executed at 12:01 AM Tuesday in the name of the People of the State of California, following San Quentin Correctional Facility Procedure 770.

This case is so racially and politically charged that anyone on either side can be called a racist or an apologist or soft on crime or a heartless bastard. Celebrities have had their say, the courts have had their say, the Governator has had his say, and the people have been having their say for a while.

At lunch yesterday, my OC-Catholic-Republican uncle blamed the ‘liberal courts’ for the drive to free Williams, which is hard to justify given that it’s the very same ‘liberal courts’ that have denied every motion Tookie’s defense has ever made. Not one court has sided with him; in fact, all the decisions I’ve been reading summaries of are unanimously against him.

It has also been said by the pro-execution side that for Tookie, this drive to avoid execution is the first step in a strategy to eventually have him freed. I think that’s probably true, since his lawyers have filed no fewer than five habeus corpus petitions in State courts. However, I don’t think we should execute somebody just because we suspect he’ll use his continued life to appeal for freedom. As long as the US is the US and the Constitution is mostly undefecated on by Republicans, it’s his perfect right to keep appealing. Only highly corrupt governments cut off a prisoner’s access to the courts. That does, of course, mean that the US Government is highly corrupt in denying suspects in the War on Terror access to lawyers and courts. That is, however, a brouhaha for another time.

In his statement denying Tookie clemency, the Governator noted that Tookie has never expressed regret or remorse for his murders, and indeed has denied committing them, despite bragging to friends about the “buddha-heads” he shot. While awaiting trial, Tookie plotted to blow up a prison bus and the deputies aboard it. While his bragging is based on witness rather than physical evidence, his plans to cause mayhem are undeniable fact. They are in his handwriting, and, while we might have gotten good at forging our parents’ signature on report cards, to accurately write and draw an entire manifesto would be impossible. His claim of innocence has been his grounds for appeal all along, despite the fact that, in the US, you can’t appeal a decision based on the outcome, you must appeal on the basis of procedural or factual error. All the courts have rejected his claims, finding no evidence that anything new that could be said would affect the verdict.

The death penalty troubles me greatly. I believe it manifests society’s underlying racism by targeting criminals of color disproportionately. This doesn’t necessarily mean the criminals don’t deserve their punishment, but that, given similar circumstance, a white man will be given life in prison while a black man will be given the death penalty. It’s not the punishment but the application of the punishment that worries me, and I doubt the death penalty could ever be fairly applied. So, it’s not the execution that troubles me. Hell, I’m enough of a pessimist to think that, in a perfect world, purse-snatchers, rapists, even drunk drivers who cause fatalities would be swiftly and harshly excised from our society. There’s no place in civilized society for even tolerating these crimes, and there’s no reason someone who’s unreformable should be allowed to waste the government’s money, not to mention precious protein and oxygen, that could be much better used elsewhere. But, as this isn’t a perfect world, that’s neither here nor there.

Jean-Michel Foucault writes about the discourses of power and punishment in society and the shift from the public spectacle of judicial punishment, meant to deter others from criminal behavior, to the segregation and individual punishment/reform meant to affect the individual. In a way, the death penalty is the last remaining vestige of the “dread Sovereign’s” hand in judicial punishment. The death penalty isn’t for the criminal, it’s for the victim, and by extension, all soceity since we are all victims when crimes like murder and rape are committed. Execution is meant to demonstrate the power of the Sovereign (or in our pseudo-democracy, the people) in controlling such abhorrent behavior. But, we do it backwards. The spectacle can only have a deterrent effect if it is a spectacle. Our private, neat, well-rehearsed executions abnegate this deterrent effect by sanitizing it. So, the deterrent argument for the death penalty is crap.

In the anti-Tookie column, there is also the little things that demonstrate the falseness of his ‘redemption’. He dedicates one of his books to people that were unjustly incarcerated, such as Nelson Mandela and Angela Davis. He also includes under this heading George Jackson, the founder of a violent prison gang who has murdered prison guards and successfuly plotted and executed murders in his own trial courtroom. If Williams believes Jackson has been unfairly punished, well, you’d be hard pressed to argue that he’s truly reformed.

Perhaps the most damning thing about Tookie is his founding of the Crips. Indirectly (and probably directly), Tookie has been the cause of thousands of unneccessary deaths, disproportionately affecting the underprivileged, often people of color. He founded a lifestyle and ethos that is far more destructive than any threat organized against civil society. Gang violence is the original terrorism, made worse by the fact that it’s indiscriminate and lacks any ‘message’ that traditional terrorists claim to have.

So, while the death penalty as a whole gives me pause, I have little reason to think that it is unmerited in this case. I still have reservations about state-sponsored execution, but I sure won’t shed a tear when his heart stops.


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