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Home > Politics

Many a Crip Twixt Cup and Lip

18 December 2005

'We know the death penalty doesn't resolve anything. Even a criminal is worthy of respect because he is a human being. The death penalty is a negation of human dignity.'

- Cardinal Renato Martino, the Vatican, this week


No one was more upset at the execution of Stanley 'Tookie' Williams this week than the people of Austria. Not even Williams himself, who was said to be as cool as someone else's cucumber as he was led to the chamber of death at Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's insistence on Tuesday. In Austria however, there have been calls for Arnold to be stripped of Austrian citizenship and in the city of Graz, a petition is underway to have the city's Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium renamed the Tookie Williams Stadium. That'd show him.

Schwarzenegger was of course the only person alive who could have saved Williams' life. But Schwarzenegger didn't want to. Co-founder of the notorious LA gang, the Crips, Williams had been on Death Row since 1981, apparently guilty of four murders. He claimed however, right up till the last minute of his life, that he was innocent of these crimes. Unfortunately, Williams insistence that he was innocent merely served to fuel Schwarzenegger's resolve that he must die. Williams' plea for clemency was founded upon redemption. According to Arnold - who knows more about redemption than most: see the video game, Terminator 3: The Redemption - Williams was not redeemed.

The fact that he had apologised for having established the Crips, had written a series of anti-gang books for children, had inspired countless troubled teens to turn their backs on a life of crime, had set up the 'protocol for peace' to end ongoing gang feuds and was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace didn't wash with Arnie. What was important to Arnie was that Tookie apologised and atoned for those murders. Tookie refused. Which makes you think, why would a man whose entire redemption schtick is predicated on apologising and atoning for his sins refuse to confess to these crimes, especially knowing that doing so would probably save his own life? Could it be that he was actually innocent?

Ignoring questions of morality, the main practical problem with the death penalty is that those that make the decision to kill also make mistakes. Innocent people are killed because the justice system is flawed. In Williams' case, there is a theory that he was framed for the murders he died for. It's certainly possible. There were no witnesses after all, save for his accomplices who may well have been acting out of self-interest. But what the hell. They killed him anyway.

The cynical observer might suggest that Tookie was merely pulling an Aitken. That's what wily crims do - they find God and speak out against their crimes. They repent. The difference however, between Williams and Jonathan Aitken is that Williams' post-incarceration achievements are very real. Profits from his books are pumped into worthy organisations such as Mothers Against Gang Wars and The Institute For Prevention Of Youth Violence. He made no money himself from his work. If you're still unconvinced, take a look at this page of testimonials.

Even if he actually was guilty of the four murders, Tookie Williams changed for the better a great many more lives than he ruined.

If Schwarzenegger had found mercy in his Christian heart, Williams would have lived out the rest of his life in prison, writing more books, inspiring more people not to make the same mistakes that he did. But there is no mercy in Arnold's heart. Mercy is for the girly men he so despises. On the contrary, Arnold believes in violence.

At midnight on Tuesday, there were a lot of angry people gathered at the gates of San Quentin, where Tookie was about to breathe his last. When it was all done, voices were raised, flags were burned and riot police were on standby. Violence seemed inevitable. (People have certainly rioted for a lot less.) And yet, it didn't happen. And perhaps it didn't happen because Tookie, in all his fully redeemed wisdom, wouldn't have wanted it that way. That would be a hell of a legacy, to continue putting a stop to violence from beyond the grave. No human being could ask for more.

Rest in peace, Tookie.

What on earth are you thinking, Arnold?

More Tookie.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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