Tuesday, December 13, 2005


The Execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams: Justice Well-Served

The execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams at 12:01am this morning ended the 24+ year effort to overturn a 1981 death sentence handed down for the murders of 7-Eleven store clerk Albert Owens, and Brookhaven Motel owners Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, and their daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin on February 28 and March 11, 1979 respectively.

In explaining why I think Governor Schwarzenegger was right in denying clemency to Williams, I want to use Catholic teaching on capital punishment as my backdrop.

The Catholic Church teaches, as it always has, that it is morally licit for civil authorities to administer capital punishment to those guilty of serious crimes commensurate with its duty to protect the safety, public order, and the moral health of society. This would include such other aims as deterrence and retribution, since the former is a means through which the civil power protects its citizens and the latter redresses the disorder caused by the offense. For this reason, the judgments involved in whether to execute or not are based on several contingent criteria including the issue of whether present day penal systems can satisfy these goals without recourse to lethal means. And when one considers that the determination of the efficacy of penal systems lies outside the Church's competence to speak on authoritiatively, it must be emphasized that (contrary to common perceptions otherwise) the opposition to the death penalty on the part of the Vatican and many of the world's bishops does not carry the force of Catholic doctrine. For this reason, Catholics are not obliged to give religious submission to it as is expected for actual magisterial teachings according to the Second Vatican Council (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium 25).

For starters, let's look at the Williams case through the criteria of protecting the safety of society. At first glance, it might seem as though since Williams is securely locked up in a maximum security prison like San Quentin, he poses no longer poses any danger to society and therefore no recourse to the death penalty is required. But such a view is extremely superficial. First of all, it leaves out the deterrence factor. By putting to death someone who has committed the crimes Williams did it sends a message to those who have any ideas about committing similar crimes that the state takes its obligation to protect its citizens seriously enough to exact the most severe punishment. This will cause such persons to, at the very least, reconsider the idea of killing innocents. Human nature, as well as history attests to the fact that the prospect of paying for a heinous crime with one's life will be decisive in causing many to decide against committing murder. The fact that only a miniscule percentage of murders are murder-suicides and that the defense attorneys of 99.9% of convicted murders argue vigorously for life instead of death is further testament to this fact. In this light, the idea that capital punishment has no deterrent effect is a prima faciae absurdity and this writer finds such claims insulting to his intelligence. Beyond this, there are credible studies that demonstrate, despite its truncated application, the death penalty in the U.S. has a notable deterrent effect.

Williams is a co-founder of the Crips, one of the most brutal and dangerous street gangs in the world. His execution would serve to undermine the activities of the Crips as well as other gangs in general by the demoralizing effect of seeing their forebearer die at the hands of the law.

Finally, it is my view that non-lethal means are not sufficient in protecting society from the danger Mr. Williams poses when we consider the fact that he refuses to be debriefed by prison officials. As the LOS ANGELES COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S RESPONSE TO STANLEY WILLIAMS’ PETITION FOR EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY makes clear: "Such a debriefing could provide the prison authorities with important information to aid them in establishing institutional security. It would also provide tremendous insight into how the gang members operate within the prison walls and how they are able to continue their criminal activities on our city streets while locked up behind those walls."

Williams' refusal to be debriefed lends a great deal of credibility to the suspicions of prison officials that Williams is still coordinating gang activity from behind the walls of San Quentin.

This along with the fact that, despite the overwhelming evidence against him, he still refuses to admit committing the crimes he was convicted of undercuts his claims to have atoned for his past. This I think renders any granting of clemency injurious to both the public order the moral health of society. But what about the anti-gang children's books he coauthored? And what about the Noble Peace Prize nominations he has received for those efforts?

As to the latter, the fact that a terrorist like Yasar Arafat, if I am not mistaken, had been nominated for the same prize should cut no ice with anyone. As to the former, well, again, if he really was serious about steering children away from gangs he would tell prison and law enforcement officials what he knows about the organizational structure and actvities of the Crips inside and outside prison walls. As the L.A. D.A. counter petition cited above states, such cooperation would be of great assistance in helping them break up the deadly hegemony of gang activity inside prison walls and on the streets. His refusal to do so, in conjunction with the fact that his writings bear traces{1} of hostility toward police, leads me to believe that these books are nothing more than a front for his deception, thus allowing him to better pursue his clandestine gang activity.

I also find it offensive that the anti-death penalty camp trumpets, without qualification, his so-called atonement in light of the above-stated facts that at the very very very least cast suspicision on the veracity of Williams' claims. It seems to me that the anti-death penalty camp is so dedicated to their agenda that they are willing to overlook such obvious sophistry even if it puts innocent lives in danger.

It is not out of hatred for Mr. Williams that I take this position. I do so out of my concern for justice and the protection of the common good. I also take this stand out of mercy for Williams' soul. It is not good for the soul of someone like Tookie Williams to allow him to think he can commit the crimes he has committed, refuse to accept responsibility for them, and refuse to make restitution for them by refusing to assist law enforcement break the grip of terror street gangs have over many neighborhoods, especially poor black neighborhoods, by providing needed information, and pretend he has made atonement when he has not.

By denying him clemency and making his execution imminent, making his impending face to face meeting with God in judgment imminent, his chances of having a change of heart and repenting as he passes through the portal of this life into the next is greater, thus enabling his eternal salvation.

And for that I will pray and urge everyone reading this to pray for the repose of Stanley Williams eternal soul.


{1} See the Introduction of the Tookie Proposal for Peace. In it, Williams blames "police tyranny" along with other factors for gang violence, including his own participation in it. The fact that he doesn't include his own choices in his litany is very telling I think.


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