Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tookie's Last Chance

Tookie Williams is scheduled to be executed on December 13. The founder of the notorious Crips gang, Williams was convicted of murder during a 1979 convenience store robbery.

As his execution date approaches, the call has gone out from many, including several celebrities, to have his execution halted. Some point to the years of work he has done as anti-gang activist, trying to steer kids away from his way of life, since he entered the pen. Others believe Williams to be actually innocent.

It sounds like he is genuinely guilty of the murder. Even if he isn't, the wave of horror spawned by his creation makes him indirectly guilty of countless other murders. So if you're going to have a death penalty (which I am universally against), this would seem to be an excellent use of it.

After giving it some thought, I find myself coming down on the side of those seeking clemency for Williams -- not just the suspension of his execution, which is automatic for a death penalty opponent like myself, but actual forgiveness.

Here's my thinking: though death certainly feels like the right penalty for the state to enact against Williams, the state would actually be better served by taking ownership of the living Williams and using his anti-gang activism to its advantage. A plan might go something like this: we'll spare your life, Mr. Williams, and in exchange, you'll continue to participate in anti-gang activism. You won't just live out your sentence, you'll spend it paying back the state for your crime.

I haven't thought it all the way through, but I think I like the whole payback approach to criminal justice in general. Why just warehouse these folks at taxpayers' expense when we can make them pay their own way, at least in part. Along the same lines, I'm not against chain gangs in concept, just the gratuitously brutal manner in which they were notoriously run in South in the first half of the 20th Century. If we can iron out the cruelty issues, making convicts -- even convicted murders (who demonstrate the capacity) -- work off their sentences seems both socially and morally appropriate.

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