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Stanley “Tookie” Williams is dead, dispatched on Tuesday morning by the good folks of California. He was euthanized shortly after midnight Pacific Time at San Quentin Prison.

Euthanized? Isn’t that what you do to an old dog?

Yes it is. The only real difference is that Williams’ execution team took 35 minutes to do what a veterinarian would accomplish in about 35 seconds. And, of course, the dog doesn’t know what’s happening.

Wait a minute: for blowing away four people with a shotgun you get “put to sleep”? What kind of punishment is that?

It does seem a little absurd, doesn’t it? That’s because it is absurd.

Don’t get me wrong. I am fundamentally opposed to the death penalty because I believe it is morally wrong to kill another person. I am practically opposed to it because in this day and age it is simply absurd.

Execution today is the last act in a warped public policy version of the childhood game, “Let’s pretend.” Let’s pretend that this is going to make any difference in victims’ lives, or in the crime rate, or in the number of street gangs. Let’s pretend that this is some kind of ultimate punishment (more so than life in prison without parole? Euthanasia would be a release from such punishment.)

Let’s pretend that this is symbolic and that somehow the right people will take the right lesson from it. Let’s pretend that we are impeccable in our logic and infallible in our decisions. Some of us may even pretend that we are “doing the Lord’s work,” although anyone who can create the Firmament in six days can probably smite Tookie Williams hip and thigh without our help. Above all, let’s pretend that justice is being done.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the game of “Let’s pretend” to a sublime level with his tortuously-reasoned decision to deny Stanley Williams clemency. When all the bafflegab is stripped away, the decision let Stanley Williams die is nothing more than George W. Bush logic with a Hollywood veneer.

Consider the clemency decision in this latest round of “Let’s pretend.” First, the decision recites the facts of the case. The governor feels need to elaborate these facts even though the clemency request was not based on any quarrel with the facts.

Then, noting that the clemency appeal is based on the “personal redemption Stanley Williams has experienced and the positive impact of the message he sends”, Schwarzenegger observes that “Williams’ claim of innocence remains a key factor to evaluating his claim of personal redemption. It is impossible to separate Williams’ claim of innocence from his claim of redemption.”

That statement might stand on its own if it were allowed to (although I disagree with it). But Schwarzenegger achieves the very separation he says is impossible when, on page 5, he asks, “Is Williams’ redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?” If it really were impossible to separate a claim of innocence from a claim of redemption, then the point would be moot.

Williams never confessed to the crimes and that fact works against him in the clemency decision. But does the defendant not have a right under the Fifth Amendment to maintain his innocence? The fact that he exercised this right should not militate against him.

The governor points out that Williams was a co-founder of “the Crips, a notorious street gang that has contributed to … predatory and exploitative violence”, including “countless murders.” Apparently Williams is somehow responsible for these deaths despite having spent the last quarter-century in jail. If that kind of “third-hand guilt” is a bona fide reason to deny clemency, how then should we consider the culpability of a president whose invading armies have contributed directly to the deaths of 30,000 Iraqis and 2,300 Americans in just three years?

For good measure, Schwarzenegger gratuitously observes that although Williams has written books that encourage readers to avoid the gang lifestyle, “the continued pervasiveness of gang violence leads one to question the efficacy of Williams’ message.” That is a low blow. Maybe it leads one to question the efficacy of the LAPD, or the efficacy of the LA schools: maybe gang members just don’t read too good.

One is left to wonder, if Williams had confessed to the killings, expressed remorse and contrition, apologized to the victims, and convinced the governor of his sincerity, would his sentence have been commuted? If the answer is yes, then somebody should have told Williams. If the answer is no, then this whole line of reasoning is pointless and irrelevant.

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Rick Wise is an industrial psychologist and retired management consultant. For 15 years, he was managing director of ValueNet International, Inc. Before starting ValueNet, Rick was director, corporate training and, later, director, corporate (more...)
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