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Tuesday, December 13, 2005


"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."

- Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:38-39

Just hours ago, the state of California executed Stanley Tookie Williams. By the state of California, I mean the people of California. Since I am one of the people of California, there is blood on my hands. My friends, we Californians killed Stanley Tookie Williams in cold blood. While Williams was a sick deviant, we are rational, sensible people who premeditated and deliberately killed Tookie.

Tookie Williams was a disgusting criminal. He committed four murders and created the Crips, one of the most deadly gangs in American history. In some ways, if we are going to execute anyone, Tookie deserves execution. On the other hand, Tookie has reformed his life by writing children's books discouraging gang violence. He has been nominated for Nobel Prizes in peace and literature. Many people say that if Tookie doesn't deserve clemency, no one does.

Yet, Tookie is no different than any other person on death row -- a terrible criminal, but also a human being with basic dignity. Human life is too valuable to be taken away for no reason whatsoever. Killing is wrong; that's the lesson I want my children to understand. Imperfect humans should not be deciding between life and death. The whole concept of clemency only exists because we feel so uncertain about the death penalty. If killing really was as great and accurate as its proponents claim, then there would be no need for clemency. After all, if the punishment was too harsh, that would have been sorted out at sentencing or during the appeals process. Clemency exists because people, even those in favor of the death penalty, realize that the system is flawed.

There is no way to rationalize the desire to kill criminals with the desire to prevent the killing of innocents. The criminal system has never been and never will be foolproof. We are humans; it's simply impossible. If you are to accept the death penalty, then you must necessarily accept the fact that innocent people will die at some point. You must accept that the benefits of killing criminals outweighs the costs of killing innocents. In the past 32 years, 119 condemned prisoners on death row have been later exonerated. If the conservatives had gotten their wish and the executions occurred sooner, a mass slaughter of innocents would have resulted.

Tookie Williams' killing presented an obvious injustice. His humanity and dignity was apparent; yet we had to pretend to deny it in order to kill the man. Going forward, we must use this tragic killing to reignite the debate over the death penalty and, someday, have it abolished. As liberals are beginning to recognize, the more successful argument is to emphasize that the death penalty doesn't work, not to emphasize our personal feelings about government sanctioned killing. There is simply no evidence that the death penalty serves any deterrent effect. In fact, all the evidence indicates the opposite. The death penalty is unnecessary because, as Pope John Paul II argued, modern prisons have made life in prison without parole a certain punishment. The financial costs from killing criminals are enormous and far outweigh the costs of life imprisonment. Florida spent $3.2 million per execution between 1973 and 1988. Texas officials acknowledged that it costs 3 times as much to kill a criminal than to pay for 40 years in a top security cell. Instead of going to better education so as to create less criminals, we redirect our money into purchasing instruments of death and hiring attorneys to justify that killing.

There is a brutalizing effect from the death penalty. A lesson is taught to every man, woman and child -- violence is an acceptable way to deal with problems and killing can be an acceptable form of punishment. This kind of violence is far worse than the cartoon violence of Mortal Kombat that Corporate Tool Joe Lieberman railed against.

There are more horrors behind the death penalty. Although the lethal injection process looks medicinal and antiseptic, it's not. Qualified medical professionals are not allowed to participate due to that pesky thing they call the Hippocratic Oath. Instead, prison workers don scrubs and guess their way into administering injections. Lethal injection has the highest rate of botched executions compared to any other method of killing. Further, it can be torturously painful, especially if untrained prison workers are the ones doing the killing. Tookie Williams' execution was, unfortunately, one of the botched executions. It took 12 minutes to find a vein; onlookers watched Williams wince in pain as the non-professional tried to inflict the killing poison. He writhed in pain during the killing. The act was vile and brutal.

The death penalty does not help the victims. Some victims suffer deep emotional trauma from the extended ordeal of an execution. Instead of moving on after a short trial, victims are forced to wait years in court for some kind of justice they will never truly acheive. Others feel responsible for the killing of the criminal.

In order to kill criminals, proponents need to be comfortable with the fact that those who kill whites are more likely to be executed than those who kill blacks. This fact is backed up by a 1990 GAO study. 50% of murders involve white victims, but 80% of death penalty cases involve white victims. 43% of those executed have been people of color; 55% of people on death row are non-white. There can be no denial of these facts: the death penalty punishes people more for killing whites and punishes non-whites more than whites.

During his legendary study that led to the Supreme Court's 1987 decision in McClesky v. Kemp, David Baldus found that Georgia prosecutors sought the death penalty for 70% of black defendants with white victims but only 15% of white defendants with black victims. 98% of prosecutors are white. In McClesky, the Supreme Court was asked to overturn the death penalty based on Baldus' statistics that proved the racist nature of the death penalty. The Court, in a 5-4 decision, declined. They accepted the statistics but claimed that it was outside of the court's province to strike down the death penalty based upon racial injustice that pervades our society. In a cruel twist of fate, Justice Powell, the author of the majority opinion in McClesky, decided 4 years later he made a terrible mistake and said he would have voted to abolish the death penalty if given a second chance.

Baldus has continued to try and use statistical evidence to prove that the death penalty is racist. In 1997, he showed that black defendants in Philadelphia were 38% more likely to receive the death penalty. The conservative Supreme Court refuses to act.

Finally, the death penalty simply does not comport with a Christian lifestyle. I do not profess myself to be a Christian, although I've gone through the steps to become a full-fledged Catholic, but the lessons of the Bible are still useful. Jesus specifically rejected the old way of the Old Testament and rejected "eye for an eye" and the use of the death penalty. In John 8, a sinner is about to be stoned. Jesus tells the crowd to "let he who has not sinned" throw the first stone. Even though Jesus himself has not sinned, he does not kill the woman. Death penalty proponents find no support for their desire to kill in the New Testament. Conservative Christians instead cite to Old Testament books such as Romans and Genesis, ignoring the fact that Jesus made a new covenant that changed much of Old Testament law. Conservatives need to stop being hypocrites regarding their religious beliefs.

Because it doesn't work, we need to get rid of the death penalty. Because killing is inherently immoral, we need to stop. Because we are better than criminals, we can't do this again. Murder is the unlawful killing of another, with malice. Malice can be the mere intent to kill. The Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment; several Supreme Court justices have argued that this prohibition makes the death penalty unlawful. Since we intended to kill Tookie Williams, an unlawful act under the Constitution, we committed murder with express malice. First degree murder can be reached if premeditation and deliberation was used in the killing. We planned the killing for years, we have a vengeful motive and we used a deadly manner of killing. So our murder was in the first degree. It's been an ugly day for us all.

Comments on ""


Blogger Tran said ... (11:33 AM) : 

hahaha. I love the last paragraph... sounds like the crim law final all over again. ;-P (shuddering at the thought)


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