Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Stanley "Tookie" Williams

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed today by lethal injection in California after the courts rejected his last appeal and the Terminator denied his request for clemency. Williams, a cofounder of the Crips gang, was convicted of the 1979 brutal murders of Albert Owens, Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang and Ye-Chen Lin. These were horrific and senseless crimes.

Williams had been on death row since 1981, or in other words damn near since I was born. 51 at the time of his execution, Williams has spent approximately half of his life on death row. In that time, while maintaining his innocence for the murders, he wrote a series of eight books for children on nonviolence and discouraging gang activity. Williams has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize ever year since 2000 and also was nominated once for the Nobel Prize for literature. He also received in 2005 the "President's Call to Service Award" with a letter from President Bush praising him for demonstrating "the outstanding character of America." When asked inspired him to begin writing books for children:

"I did it as an act of atonement, of redemption. I wanted to tell the story of what gang life is like without using the blood and gore, as some people do. My objective was to de-glamorize the gang lifestyle, to help thousands and thousands of children. I know that may seem naive."
In seeking clemency Williams' attorneys asked Schwarzenegger: "whether clemency remains of value in this state'' and "whether rehabilitation is just another word.'' No California death row inmate has been granted clemency since 1967 when Ronald Reagan spared the life of a brain damaged inmate. According to NPR:

Schwarzenegger denied Williams' request for clemency, suggesting that his supposed change of heart was not genuine because he had not shown any real remorse for the countless killings committed by the Crips.

"Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?" Schwarzenegger wrote. "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption."

I think the death penalty is never warranted. Period. But even for those who believe there are cases in which executions are appropriate it seems as though if there was ever an argument for rehabilitation this would be that case. It is not as though Williams was throwing gang signs last month and then looked at a calendar and said shit my execution date is coming up I better start renouncing my gang life.

I have no idea whether or not he is guilty of the murders. Our legal system is pretty good but there are absolutely innocent people sitting in prison and he may or may not have been one of them. I don't think it trivializes the seriousness of the offense he was convicted of to acknowledge that he has changed from the twenty-somthing violence gang-banger he was went he entered death row and that the change was overwhelmingly positive. It seems as though his years of work promoting nonviolence while sitting on death row is a hell of a lot better than a hollow promise or a sobbing confession and holy-roller conversion.

-A. Monkey