The execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams early Tuesday morning was wrong not because Williams was innocent or guilty, not because he was rehabilitated or unrepentant, not because the decision of California officials to kill him exacerbated racial tensions, not even because killing Williams will make it harder to control gang violence in California and elsewhere.
The execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams was wrong for the same reason that every execution that takes place in the United States is wrong. When the government kills an individual who is in its custody and poses no threat to society, it perpetuates a cycle of violence that will never be broken so long as capital punishment is sanctioned.
This particular execution became a big deal because Williams was a founding member of the notorious Crips gang who, after his conviction for murder, became one of the most effective anti-gang activists in the country.
Aware that Williams had spent the past decade writing books to deter young people from following his example and using his "street" credibility to broker peace agreements between warring gangs in the United States and abroad, celebrities and civil rights activists battled to save Williams. They were right to do so, just as anyone who attempts to prevent a state-sponsored slaying is right to do so.
But there is a danger is these high-profile fights to prevent executions. They cause some misguided people to imagine that most executions are justified, that those victims of capital punishment who do not have high-profile allies and teams of lawyers are perhaps more legitimately put to death.
That is not the case.
No execution is justified.
The death penalty does not deter crime.
The death penalty does not make anyone safer.
The death penalty is costlier to impose than life imprisonment.
The death penalty is racist, in that its victims are disproportionately people of color, and it discriminates even more grotesquely against the poor and the uneducated.
Worst of all, the death penalty is fallible, as the clear evidence of wrongful convictions and of executions in dubious circumstances confirms again and again.
The death penalty is wrong. Wrong for Stanley "Tookie" Williams. And wrong for Kenneth Boyd of North Carolina, Shawn Humphries of South Carolina, Wesley Baker of Maryland all of whom were executed this month and the hundreds of other less prominent victims of this senseless approach to criminal justice.
It was Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who gave voice to the only credible argument with regard to the death penalty.
"As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder and assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses," she said. "An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder."
Stanley "Tookie" Williams may have committed illegal murders as a gang leader. But the state of California committed legal murder when it took his life.
Those who would seek to make a distinction between the two murders are fooling themselves about questions of justice and morality. Murder is murder, no matter who pulls the trigger or who approves the administration of a lethal injection.
© 2005 Capital Times