Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A man redeemed or a con artist?

Last night, my husband was late coming home because of a traffic jam around San Quentin. This morning, my eight year old daughter crept up to me and asked "What do you think of the death penalty"? Stanley "Tookie" Williams has come into my life. Have you heard of him? He was a committed Crips member in the 1970s. In 1979, he was convicted, and sentenced to death, for murdering four people in two different robberies. He's been on Death Row at San Quentin since then. The big hoo-ha is because he has become another Death Row celebrity. He's written children's books and he's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times (and we know what kind of quality people win that prize). Debate swirls about whether he's still a Crips member, with his celebrity handlers claiming he isn't, and the San Quentin officials claiming he is. Oh, I didn't mention the celebrity handlers? He's got lots of them:

The campaign to win a pardon for convicted killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams continued Monday when the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Bianca Jagger visited him at San Quentin State Prison. *** Jagger, former wife of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, is a representative of the Council of Europe, an anti-death penalty organization. Jackson and Jagger are the latest celebrities to visit the prison in a campaign for a pardon from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rapper Snoop Dogg headlined a rally Saturday morning that drew more than 1,000 people.
The defense now asserted on Tookie's behalf is that he was convicted simply because he was an admitted gang member, not because there was solid evidence that he committed the murders for which he was on trial. That may well be true. Despite the safeguards we try to build into our system, innocent men have been convicted before -- especially poor, black men. Still, I find it hard to believe that a hard core, long-time Crips member didn't have blood on his hands . . . but that's just my biases speaking, I guess. My daughter's question -- "what do you think of the death penalty?" -- was a biggie, and I spent all of breakfast talking with my kids about it. A little history -- All societies, at all times in history, have punished murder with death. A little confusion -- Not all murders are punishable by death. We talked about murderers who are insane and about self-defense. A little problem with the system -- Poor people are disproportionately affected by the death penalty and blacks, amongst the poor, are most disproportionately affected by the death penalty. It's unclear whether that means innocent blacks are given the death penalty more often, or that guilty whites are given it less often, or just that guilty whites get the death penalty less often than guilty blacks (or all of the above) but there's clearly a discrepancy. Problems with freeing convicted killers -- We talked about Norman Mailer's successful campaign to free Jack Abbott. And about how Jack Abbott immediately murdered another person. (Incidentally, this article on Mailer and Abbott also talks about the "radical chic" that made killers so popular on the Left in the 1960s and 1970s.) Silent voices -- We talked about the fact that the four people who died (perhaps at Tookie's hands) aren't here to talk for themselves. They didn't get to go on to write books, to plead their case, to eat food, breath air, have children. They're gone, and they died in fear before an implicable man (Tookie?) who made himself judge, jury and executioner. I gave my daughter and son a lot of information, probably too much for little kids, but, as I said to my daughter, "There's no simple answer. This is complicated." My feeling is that Tookie did it and that Tookie is now being used to advance the 21st Century version of radical chic. And my feeling is that, while it's great if Tookie has used his time in prison to improve himself and become an object lesson for others, that should not obviate the punishment imposed upon him by law for cruelly depriving four innocents of life.