Tookie Williams and the death penalty


Stanley "Tookie" Williams is, as of this writing, sentenced to the death penalty, with execution to take place on Dec. 13, 2005.  There have been several articles, talk shows, news interviews, etc. ranging from "Why ‘Tookie’ Williams deserves clemency" to interviews with the families of his murder victims on CNN.  The reason this one is getting so much attention is because various Hollywood actors are coming out to defend the former co-founder of the Crips.
 
On the one hand, Tookie Williams has been found guilty by several courts, and every appellate court has refused to overturn any verdicts.  Not only was Tookie found guilty of multiple murders, several "execution-style", but he also bragged about these murders, including imitating and mocking the cries for help and the gurgles of pain as his victim bled to death.  (All of this may be found in the LA County District Attorney’s Response to Petition for Executive Clemency.)  The wife of one of the victims has criticized Jamie Foxx’s pleas for clemency by stating that, even though he did a good job of portraying him in the TV movie "Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story", he is just an actor – he got to play the role for a short time and move on; her and her family lived through it and will continue to live with it for the rest of their lives.
 
On the other hand, he has supposedly reformed himself in prison (although the prison officials doubt his redemption), even educating himself, becoming an anti-gang advocate, and even becoming a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.
 
Some interesting comments came out of an interview Sean Hannity had with actor Mike Farrell.  Among the points being made were that these various Hollywood actor/activists were coming out to speak on the defense of Tookie Williams, yet many of them are pro-choice – they are willing to defend a man who commit multiple murders, but will not prevent the deaths (or murders) of millions of innocents by their own mothers and "doctors".  [Personal note: this was a major point of defense for my own past beliefs in being anti-abortion and pro-death-penalty, before I read John Paul (the Great)’s papal encyclical "The Gospel of Life".]
 
However, the most interesting comment came about when Sean Hannity said that, based on the DA’s document and all he’d heard and read about the case, Tookie Williams does not deserve mercy.  The reason this is the most interesting comment is because nobody "deserves" mercy – mercy, by it’s very definition, is something that is granted, in spite of any facts, evidence, or worthiness of clemency.  (The specific definition of mercy is "leniency and compassion shown toward offenders by a person or agency charged with administering justice".)
 
Justice is commonly understood to be (but not restricted to) punishment deserved for crimes/sins committed.  Mercy is the precise opposite of this – it is the withholding of punishment deserved.  How can one deserve mercy when the punishment deserved has already been established?  The answer to this question is: charity.  As St. Paul taught us, we cannot do anything to deserve God’s mercy – we’ve all sinned (Romans 3:23), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)!  By this logic, none of us should even be alive – it is God’s mercy that holds back his justice (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).
 
This alone – this view of mercy as a gift from God to us, that we should share with others – should be the true motivation for any clemency toward any condemned man.  We should not be as concerned with whether more blacks are given the death penalty, as we should be concerned about an uncontrolled sense of vengeance in our own hearts.  We should not be so concerned with whether a criminal has reformed or been redeemed, for only God knows that – rather, we should be concerned with whether our hearts and minds have been reformed to pray for his redemption, rather than his destruction.  We should not be so concerned that we might put to death a powerful anti-gang advocate and Nobel Prize nominee, but rather that we might put to death a human being – any human being, innocent or guilty. 
 
Being pro-life means being for all life – unborn, elderly, invalid, criminal, or enemy.  By any and all reasonable means, we should preserve as many lives as possible.  (The only exception to the death penalty would be an immediate defense of other lives, e.g. if a terrorist cannot be stopped before killing others, that person may be killed, to save the lives of others.)  This is why John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin.  This is why St. Maria Goretti’s parents forgave her murderer.  This is why countless saints throughout the ages have prayed for their oppressors, even as they were being martyred.  It is the hope that God’s gift of mercy may be passed on to others, so that they may live.
 
As charity starts at home, the evils of the world start within our hearts, before they are expressed in our actions.  The outward expression of what is in our hearts is shown in our culture (our arts and our forms of entertainment), in our laws (our opinions shape how we vote, which determines our legislators, judges, and executives), and our society (i.e., what we live in and what we pass on and teach to future generations).  Therefore, the war against the "culture of death" must first be fought in our own hearts, and the first battle is forgiveness toward those who don’t "deserve" forgiveness.
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7 Responses to Tookie Williams and the death penalty

  1. Jake says:

    Thanks for this. You makes some excellent points.I quoted a portion of this post in a brief commentary written for the Christian Alliance:http://blog01.kintera.com/christianalliance/archives/2005/12/executed_by_the.html#more

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