Dec 11, 2005

Tookie: My reflections on the death penalty issue

I'm conflicted in my thoughts on the death penalty.

On the one hand, I believe criminals need appropriate punishments for their crimes. Since I am not married, nor do I have kids, I use the "what if this happened to my parents?" test. And Jah forbid, if anything ever did (knock on wood), I'd want the perp to be brought to justice - to the fullest extent. I can totally sympathize with Rebecca Owens, whose father was killed by Stanley "Tookie" Williams:
"He killed my father, and that will never change," [Owens] said. "I think he is a horrible and awful man.

"I don't think it's fair that he gets to breathe and walk around and have interactions, and my father, whose only crime was showing up for work, can't do those things," Owens said. "The impact that my father's death had on me is long-reaching and affects me today."
I don't disagree with the devastation Owens feels surrounding her father's death. But my logic tells me that it's a fine line between "justice" and "vengeance." The former is rational; the other, an emotional response. And the law should be based on reason and logic and not on emotions or subjectivity. Right?

I'm not saying that I think those in jail convicted of heinous, violent, and truly antisocial crimes should have an easy life in jail, but I am not sure if putting them to death is necessarily the answer. Who am I to judge another person, regardless of their behavior? Who am I to say whether one person should live and another person should die?

And who is to say that an incarcerated person does not have the capacity to reform?

Joe Garofali at the SF Chronicle asks this same question in his column today. Currently, 68% of Californians support the death penalty. And the impending debate surrounding Crips Founder Stanley "Tookie" Williams is the impetus of a very serious converation Californians need to have with themselves.

There is a danger that California may become, as Garofali mentions, "Texified," in that the more executions this state performs (is it even possible to come close to the numbers in Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma?), the more desensitized our state's citizens will be about putting criminals to death. I don't ever want California to lie on its back when it comes to executions. Each execution this state does should be a horrible process full of public debate, protests, brouhaha, etc. because with every criminal put to death in our state, there needs to be some deep soul searching that goes on by everyone. It's a sad day whenever someone is put to death, regardless of the circumstances.

And since the CA Supreme Court ruled today that Tookie's execution wouldn't be stopped, it all lies in the hands of the Governator, a man who has made millions portraying characters who kill. And you can guarantee that from now until the clock strikes midnight Tuesday morning, it will be some high drama.

Will Tookie's execution - as opposed to life in prison- really make our society better or safer?

I'm not so sure.

(Photo credit: SF Chronicle/Daryl Bush)


Angie said...

It's about not wasting my money on someone like that.

Jet said...

I hope that continued improvements, like DNA evidence, will solidify prosecution cases to the point that the uncertainty of guilt is not such a frequent issue. I'm pro death penalty, but until we can eliminate racial bias and increase reliance of unbiased science to prove guilt, our system is flawed and must be subject to constant review.

Mags, I sent you an email. Let me know what you think.

Captain Justice said...

"Williams ordered Owens into a back room at gunpoint, shot out a security monitor, then ordered, "Get down on your knees, (expletive)," and shot him twice in the back, according to testimony. Williams "later laughed about it as he was eating his hamburger," Martin says."

"Less than two weeks later, on March 11, Williams broke down the door at the Brookhaven Motel, ripping through four locks and shattering the molding, according to a prosecutor.

Killed were Yen-I Yang, 76; his wife, Tsai-Shai Yang, 63, and their visiting daughter, Yee-Chen Lin, 43. The Taiwanese immigrants were about to sell the business because the neighborhood had become too rough, Martin said."

I love capitol punishment.

He was convicted of killing 4 unarmed innocent people "in cold blood" Which makes me wonder how many people did he kill (since life obviously means little to him) that he didnt get caught for.

What I'd like to do, is kill him, and write a childrens book about it.
Like so:
Tookie Tookie where you at?
I lookie lookie with my gat.
Did you find Jesus to complete you?
Let me help the Jman meet you.
Tookie Tookie where you at?
Coming closer! with my gat!
Do you dream of freedom? Amber Mountains?
Me and my shotgun, make your neck a fountain.
Tookie Tookie where you at?
Rape your corpse with a baseball bat!!

ok, now all that is left is for someone to nominate me for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Chop Chop!

Mags said...

As I said, I don't condone the crimes for which Tookie was convicted and serving time for - but that doesn't, in turn, give you license to sound like a raging psychopath, either.

MikeJ said...

Mags, this is a great post. Thanks for your thoughts. I was pretty torn up after Tookie was executed. And though I found minimal joy that an Austrian sports stadium named after the Governator was going to remove Schwarzenegger's name from its title, this whole situation sucks.

I think you nail it, though...there's a difference between revenge and punishment. And with all the racial and economic problems with our criminal justice system, we just seem so infallible to be practicing something as non-reversable as the death penalty.

I could go on states without the death penalty have lower crime rates than those that do; how it's cheaper to keep someone in prison for life than it is to pursue the death penalty process (in our current system, which allows for expensive appeal after appeal); how most religions speak against the death penalty...but I think the telling question is why our country is one of the few First World countries, if not the only one, that still permits capital punishment. I think the answer to that question says a lot about who we are as a country, and the types of principles that influence our policies.