Tookie Williams was executed last night, and in the cold dawn light of the next day right-wingers are still dancing around the embers of their victory bonfires. “Shake hands with the devil,” says one. Michelle Malkin, in her role as tribal high priestess, makes righteous note of the names of those Tookie Williams was convicted of murdering. Those who protested the execution are dismissed as “the freak show.”
So Tookie Williams is dead, and the four people he was convicted of murdering remain dead, also. And the world turns, and the seasons change. In the vastness of eternity, big bleeping deal. Whatever path Williams took last night is one we’ll all take eventually. Whether we “deserve” death or not is beside the point.
And this is a point missed by both advocates and protesters of last night’s execution. Opponents of the death penalty make a huge mistake, IMO, by making the issue about what a prisoner might deserve. Will Bunch wrote yesterday about an anti-death penalty “cult of celebrity” that makes poster boys out of “deserving” prisoners like Williams or Mumia Abu-Jamal. These men are considered “deserving” because of their intelligence and accomplishments. Those who argue for sparing them either dismiss their convictions or insist they are better men now and don’t deserve to die for what they did then.
But if we make the argument about who deserves to die, we’re thinking like righties, who arrogantly believe they know who deserves to live or die. Bunch continues,
To truly oppose the death penalty, one must oppose it not just for the innocent or the remorseful, but for the most vile scum among us. The idea of a government taking someone’s life is offensive to our core religious beliefs — and most likely to yours as well. A so-called Christian fundamentalist who supports capital punishment is going through more twists than a South Philly pretzel. Even the Pope — and maybe even Rick Santorum — can get this one right.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER should have granted clemency â€” to Donald Beardslee, the convicted murderer executed in January. Beardslee didn’t have celebrity advocates making his case, like Stanley Tookie Williams did. But if Schwarzenegger had commuted Beardslee’s sentence to life in prison without parole, he would have made clear that no one would be put to death on his watch. And he could have explained that a civilized society doesn’t kill for retribution and should certainly not continue doing so when it’s become clear that the judicial system’s margin of error is unacceptably high.
Alas, Schwarzenegger failed to stake out that principled position. So Williams, who was scheduled to be executed shortly after midnight, always faced an uphill battle in seeking clemency. The governor turned him down because he does not consider capital punishment to be about our values as a society, but about the merits of the convicted supplicant.
Put another way, executions are not just about what is done to the condemned, but about what is done to us, the executioners.
The death penalty does not deter crime. Nor, I believe, has it been proved reliably to ease the sorrow of those who loved the victim. It only serves to gratify some base instinct that makes us want to cast all aberrations out of the tribe — including the malformed, the odd, the diseased, and anyone else who varies from social and biological norms.
But throughout human history, the great moral and spiritual teachers have urged us to renounce this instinct. If Jesus really said what he is quoted as saying in Matthew chapters 5-7, for example, the rightie tribal dancers need to look to their own souls. “Ye have heard that it was said to men of old, Thou shalt not murder; and whosoever shall murder shall be liable to judgement. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with His brother without good cause shall be liable to judgement. … Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that ye resist not the evil one: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. … Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
About five centuries earlier, the Tao Teh Ching warned (verse 74)
People fear death because death is an instrument of fate.
When people are killed by execution rather than by fate,
This is like carving wood in the place of a carpenter.
Those who carve wood in place of a carpenter
Often injure their hands.
Capital punishment is a failure of civilization. It legitimizes violence. It gratifies our worse instincts. It diminishes us as a people.
It’s not something to celebrate.
Update: See the Rude One, too.