A little more on Tookie Williams

by Chris Bertram on December 13, 2005

It doesn’t shock me that Tookie Williams was refused clemency. It saddens me, as do all such executions, but it doesn’t shock me. I can even see things from Schwarzenegger’s point of view: the courts have had their say, the process has come to an end, and the state has determined what the penalty should be. It is difficult for an elected official to use his personal discretion at the last moment. But I was shocked to read , among Schwarzenegger’s justifications for his refusal, the following:

In addition to arguing that Williams’ continued claims of innocence should be counted against him, the governor made a point of quoting the dedication of Williams’ 1998 book “Life in Prison.”

In the dedication, Williams named 11 people, all of whom had been imprisoned or in custody. Among them were Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid leader; Malcolm X, the black nationalist leader assassinated in 1965; and Angela Davis, the black Marxist professor acquitted of murder charges in 1972.

Schwarzenegger and his aides focused on one name on the list — George Jackson, the author of “Soledad Brother,” a book about life in prison. Jackson was “gunned down on the upper yard at San Quentin Prison” on Aug. 21, 1971, in a “foiled escape attempt on a day of unparalleled violence in the prison that left three officers and three inmates dead,” Schwarzenegger said.

“The inclusion of George Jackson on this list defies reason and is a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems,” the governor said.

I posted a while ago about the British government’s plans to criminalize statements “glorifying terrorism”. Here it seems that if it tipped the balance of Schwarzenegger’s decision, Williams’s dedication of a book to a controversial historical figure, may have cost him his life. A book dedication hardly amounts to an endorsement of all of a person’s attitudes and actions anyway. What can Schwarzenegger have been thinking in including this in his statement?

{ 79 comments }

1

john m. 12.13.05 at 12:17 pm

“What can Schwarzenegger have been thinking in including this in his statement?”

The question assumes thought on his part, which seems rash.

2

Grand Moff Texan 12.13.05 at 12:18 pm

I’m am (again) reminded of another case. The only injustice suffered by Mumia, who deserved to die and was not even defended by his own brother, a witness, was the fact that poetry he wrote in high school was read aloud at his sentencing hearing. You would think that a guy who shot a cop through the face as he lay on the ground would be a shoe-in for the death penalty, but apparently someone in the prosecutor’s office thought that whitey could do with a good scare.

Arnold is simply reaching to find a pretext for a decision that’s been made for him, so he can appear to be deliberating.
.

3

abb1 12.13.05 at 12:29 pm

Yeah, it seems really naive to think that this “may have cost him his life”. These are political decisions. Yeah, the rationalization put forward is a bit clumsy.

4

Sebastian Holsclaw 12.13.05 at 12:33 pm

You should read the whole statement. Schwarzenegger didn’t believe that Mr. Williams had shown repentance because he refused to even admit that he had murdered anyone. Furthermore, he continued protecting the Crips even after incarceration. That didn’t look like repentance or contrition. That makes perfect sense to me.

5

Chris Bertram 12.13.05 at 12:37 pm

Sebastian H: I wasn’t arguing with the whole statement. I was questioning the wisdom, relevance and propriety of invoking the mention of George Jackson. Unless you think that I’m wrong about that your comments are — as so often — beside the point.

6

Grand Moff Texan 12.13.05 at 12:38 pm

Furthermore, he continued protecting the Crips even after incarceration.

Which, considering the guy was in jail, is just plain weird.

Learn something about prison life, then try again.
.

7

otto 12.13.05 at 12:48 pm

On thought crimes in the UK, I was shocked by this (subject to confirmation of accuracy):

Well, the other day, the author Lynette Burrows went on a BBC Five Live show to talk about the government’s new “civil partnerships” and expressed her opinion – politely, no intemperate words – that the adoption of children by homosexuals was “a risk”. The following day, Fulham police contacted her to discuss the “homophobic incident”.

A Scotland Yard spokesperson told the Telegraph’s Sally Pook that it’s “standard policy” for “community safety units” to investigate “homophobic, racist and domestic incidents” because these are all “priority crimes” – even though, in the case of Mrs Burrows, there is (to be boringly legalistic about these things) no crime, as even the zealots of the Yard concede. “It is all about reassuring the community,” said the very p.c. Plod to the Telegraph. “All parties have been spoken to by the police. No allegation of crime has been made. A report has been taken but is now closed.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/12/13/do1302.xml

8

Steve 12.13.05 at 12:52 pm

Frankly, I can’t even understand your point. If we agree (and we may not) that the dedication of George Jackson wasn’t the ‘tipping point’ (i.e. that dedication did not, in fact, cost Tookie his life), then what is controversial about not liking a dedication to a murderer who apparently was still prone to violence when he was killed?

“A book dedication hardly amounts to an endorsement of all of a person’s attitudes and actions anyway.”

No, but certainly it means something, doesn’t it? Tookie could have dedicated his book to Gandhi-instead he dedicated it to George Jackson, a murderer who died while (apparently) engaging in a riot that killed three prison guards. Is this really a non-controversial, even completely meaningless, choice? And if its has any meaning, what is remarkable about noticing that meaning?

Steve

9

Chris Bertram 12.13.05 at 12:55 pm

Frankly, I can’t even understand your point.

Sadly, you’re right about that. You can’t.

10

Jim Buck 12.13.05 at 1:07 pm

Dylan rushed out a single eulogising Jackson.

11

dsquared 12.13.05 at 1:11 pm

Otto, what are the police meant to do with a complaint other than investigate it? And is it really an unusual police procedure to follow up a complaint by talking to the person involved?

12

Sebastian holsclaw 12.13.05 at 1:26 pm

“A book dedication hardly amounts to an endorsement of all of a person’s attitudes and actions anyway. What can Schwarzenegger have been thinking in including this in his statement?”

It shows that he was still willing to publically lionize a murderer.

It is a rather small point but still important. You should have little trouble understanding this since apparently you want to focus on a very small part of an easily understood document explaining Schwarzenegger’s position on the proposed clemency of Mr. Williams. Yes a dedication to a murderer says something about the person making the dedication. Not a hugely decisive something. It should be judged in the context of other things that lend hints into the requesting person’s repentance. And it was.

Yes mentioning that dedication in a statement about the denial of clemency says something about the person making the decision. But in the context of the denial in general it doesn’t say very much. Certainly not enough to be shocked under normal circumstances. The thrust of Schwarzenegger’s argument was that Mr. Williams offered no contrition and thus did not seem to be repentant. That combined with many other things (like refusing to divulge what he knew about the Crip’s inner workings) including a small thing like dedicating a book to a murderer who tried to escape from prison to reinforce the idea that Mr. Williams wasn’t deserving of clemency.

If your point is that mentioning the dedication invalidates the rest of the clemency argument, you are being silly.

If your point is that small bits of evidence can’t combine to give clues to someone’s current character you are being unusually fastidious.

Your use of the phrase “may have cost him his life” invests a shocking amount of weight on the word “may”. It almost certainly didn’t cost Mr. Williams his life. It was additional evidence used to show that Mr. Williams wasn’t repentant. On the scale of such evidence it was certainly less weighty than the fact that he never admitted guilt and never revealed his knowledge about the inner workings of the murderous gang he helped create.

Perhaps you were making a point about civilized you are by professing shock at such things. But whatever your point, you seem to be focusing on trivialities far more than Schwarzenegger did.

13

Michael 12.13.05 at 1:41 pm

Well, you can question the wisdom and propriety of invoking George Jackson, but you cannot speculate, without further information, that this invocation might have “tipped the balance” of Schwarzenegger’s decision or that it cost Williams his life. You’d have to show that all of the other things that Schwarzenegger had to consider were less important to him than this. And Sebastian has a point; you might have a valid problem with Schwarzenegger’s invocation of George Jackson, but it’s part of a larger context, and taking it out of that context gives it the kind of weight that it may not deserve. In fact, as it stands, it sounds pretty absurd.

As a side note, much of the material in his statement was provided in briefs from the D.A.’s office, and his office then incorporated that material into his statement. One thing that wasn’t mentioned was that, during Williams’ planned escape, he not only intended to kill the guards, but he also intended to murder one of his accomplices, who had turned witness against him and who was being transferred on the same bus. In a sense, however, this is neither here nor there, as is the invocation of Jackson; Schwarzenegger was not going to grant Williams clemency, not only for the reasons in his statement but because it would have been politically inexpedient, especially if he plans to run for re-election.

The odd thing in all of this, though, is that, here on Crooked Timber and elsewhere, there’s much pedantic talk about Williams’ execution, but almost nothing said about Albert Owens, Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Chai Yang, or Ye-Chen Lin. I suspect their absence in all of this is because all that would be offered are platitudes, or pat answers about the merits (or lack thereof) of imprisonment (as was seen in the previous post and comments on Williams).

14

James Wimberley 12.13.05 at 1:48 pm

It seems to me that the reasons given by Schwarzenegger give a little ground for hope in other cases. He didn’t say that repentance (the personal factor in restorative justice) and restitution (the operational factor) are irrelevant; he could have said that Stanley Williams’ crimes are such that retribution must be exacted regardless. By contesting the adequacy of the prisoner’s efforts to make amends, he conceded the point that they do count. No doubt the decision is pure politics, but public opinion in Califormia at least is moving slowly towards a truer sense of fairness.

15

Chris Bertram 12.13.05 at 2:02 pm

It shows that he was still willing to publically lionize a murderer.

A minor and probably merely technical legal question for you Sebastian: was George Jackson ever convicted of murder?

16

yabonn 12.13.05 at 2:04 pm

Chris tries to understand :

What can Schwarzenegger have been thinking in including this in his statement?

And all he gets is :

It shows that he was still willing to publically lionize a murderer.

See? Many people are willing to say, maybe even think this makes sense. That’s the point.

I really don’t think Schwarzy sincerely took it in account. It’s just a little bit of outrage/justification fodder for the comfort of the pro-death penalty on this case. That’s his comfort too, after all.

17

BigMacAttack 12.13.05 at 2:05 pm

Chris –

‘Here it seems that if it tipped the balance of Schwarzenegger’s decision, Williams’s dedication of a book to a controversial historical figure, may have cost him his life.’

The article –

‘But “there is nothing in the tone of the governor’s decision that suggests it was a close call or agonized over,” said USC law professor Jody Armour.’

‘Instead, Schwarzenegger said there was no question that Williams had murdered four people in 1979. Williams’ repeated refusal to admit that became, to the governor, a powerful factor against clemency.’

“Stanley Williams insists he is innocent, and that he will not and should not apologize or otherwise atone for the murders,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption.”‘

The moon may be made of green cheese.

18

Chris Bertram 12.13.05 at 2:06 pm

you seem to be focusing on trivialities far more than Schwarzenegger did.

I am a blogger, Schwarzenegger is Governor of California and was issuing a statement justifying his decision to refuse clemency in a death penalty case. Your implied comparison of the relative gravitas with which we approach our respective tasks suggests a serious loss of perspective.

19

otto 12.13.05 at 2:20 pm

Otto, what are the police meant to do with a complaint other than investigate it? And is it really an unusual police procedure to follow up a complaint by talking to the person involved?

Complaints about expression of political views are impermissible and should not be followed up. I assume if you called the NYPD to make a complaint about what Rush Limbaugh or Marc Maron said on the radio, they would not follow it up. Am I wrong?

20

Sebastian Holsclaw 12.13.05 at 2:29 pm

Hey, if you don’t take your arguments seriously I guess I won’t either.

21

Chris Bertram 12.13.05 at 2:32 pm

Sebastian, please don’t take my arguments seriously. In fact, please ignore everything I say in future. It will improve my online experience (and I suspect that of others) immensely.

22

dipnut 12.13.05 at 2:34 pm

Stan Williams was a militant racist who practiced what he preached. He deliberately murdered four people, expressly for being white or Asian.

George Jackson was also a militant racist; a Black Panther and founder of the revolutionary Marxist organization, the Black Guerilla Family. He killed a prison guard in what he regarded as a race reprisal, and incited his 17-year-old brother to a rescue attempt that culminated in a judge’s grisly death.

Stan Williams claimed to repent his crimes, and pled for clemency on the grounds of his putative change of heart. But he dedicated a book to George Jackson. This is a strong indication that, up to that time anyway, he never had a change of heart.

What seems to upset you, is that Williams may have been executed for something he said. But you would grant him clemency for some other thing(s) he said. Suppose we throw all he ever said in the balance; the things he DID still weigh heavily on one side.

23

joe o 12.13.05 at 2:55 pm

>Finally, Schwarzenegger discounted the main arguments made by backers of clemency — that Williams should be kept alive because of the power of his anti-gang message.

>”It is hard to assess the effect of such efforts in concrete terms, but the continued pervasiveness of gang violence leads one to question the efficacy of Williams’ message,” the governor’s statement said.

The continued pervasiveness of war leads me to question the efficacy of Jesus’ message. Peacemaker my ass.

24

nolo commentre 12.13.05 at 3:11 pm

I agree with the other commenters that Chris Bertram is objecting to something inconsequential, but I wonder if there wouldn’t be something non-trivial in objecting to this (from no. 16):

“Stanley Williams insists he is innocent, and that he will not and should not apologize or otherwise atone for the murders,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption.”’

If a man is innocent (perhaps a low-probability event here), there’s nothing to be redeemed for, so this logic only makes sense if the man’s guilty. But how do we be sure of what’s happening in the heart of a guilty man?

This is no doubt a somewhat hoary/obvious(/stupid?) point, but isn’t there the worry that the truly sociopathic will be better (and perhaps more motivated) at pushing the buttons that Schwarzenegger is suggesting are there to be pushed here? Has it been established that the truly repentant are more likely to display repentance – especially if there’s something in it for them?

25

williamsburger 12.13.05 at 3:16 pm

CB, I’m not generally on Sebastian’s side of the political fence, but you seem to be treating him pretty unfairly. It’s not unreasonable to point out that the use of the dedication wasn’t the Governator’s sufficient condition for not granting clemency, but was a probative piece of evidence in a broader story. I don’t see Sebastian doing anything other than pointing that out, and you haven’t really responded to his point substantively. Given that, your attacks on Sebastian in that context seem like pretty extreme overreaction. It’s your space to do what you want with and all that, but I don’t think you’re making yourself look very good in this partiuclar pointless internet flame war.

26

Chris Bertram 12.13.05 at 3:30 pm

a probative piece of evidence in a broader story

The only context in which something as inconsequential as this would be taken as a “probative piece of evidence” is a blog discussion inhabited by wingnuts. Yet it was deployed by the Governor of California as part of the public justification for a decision. Those of you who are insisting on the inconsequentiality of these remarks would do better to worry about the fact that Schwarzenegger made them: they may be fluff but the fact that he just dropped them in wasn’t.

27

Dan Simon 12.13.05 at 3:33 pm

Sebastian, please don’t take my arguments seriously. In fact, please ignore everything I say in future. It will improve my online experience (and I suspect that of others) immensely.

Chris, It’s completely natural, when others point out significant flaws in your arguments, to react with irritation at those who refute you. (I know, because it’s happened to me plenty of times….) Still, this kind of rudeness is unbecoming of the serious academic we know you to be.

CT would be a much poorer place without Sebastian and the others who challenge you and your colleagues to hone your arguments carefully and wield them with precision. I honestly hope you wouldn’t prefer it to become an echo chamber where you and your friends can warmly reassure each other that disagreement with any of you is just stupid. Aren’t there enough of those around the blogosphere already?

28

williamsburger 12.13.05 at 3:39 pm

Williams (who planned, but did not complete a violent prison escape, that would have involved the murder of a prison guard) later dedicated a book to a person who in fact did murder a prison guard. That very same book was used by his supporters as the primary piece of evidence of his supposed reformation and renunciation of violence.

Given those facts, it does not seem unreasonable that the dedication was probative — not decisive, but probative — evidence that Williams’ renunciation of violence was insincere or incomplete, which was the Governor’s stated reason for refusing clemency. One can (and I do)take issue with the Governor’s approach to clemency, or the death penalty in general, but partial reliance on the dedication as part of a “totality of the circumstances” evidence of renunciation of violence was probably not unreasonable, at least in my view.

29

chris from boca 12.13.05 at 3:44 pm

hey i am no ahnuld fan, but he had to consider the dead and their loved ones. he had to consider the future killings and the related losses associated with the senseless glorification of a culture of lawlessness. i believe in free speech and minority rights; i believe in the right to dissent. i also believe that one properly forfeits these things when one murders another human being. i wouldn’t impose the death penalty and i would stop those who do, if I could, but that doesn’t mean i don’t see the other side also. if it was my child killed, i admit i might feel differently. if it was my loved one, i would want the governor to consider my side also, not just the redemption found by the killer, but the prospect for redemption utterly snuffed out in their victim. and if i was the killer, i would be more senstivie to the loss of my victims than to publicly support other convicted criminals at the risk of causing their victims even more unnecessary heartache. maybe he didn’t deserve to die, but I don’t blame the governor for considering his mixed up views that glorify violence in any form. i don’t mourn the loss of another violent son.

30

MJ Memphis 12.13.05 at 4:01 pm

>Furthermore, he continued protecting the Crips even after incarceration.

>Which, considering the guy was in jail, is just plain weird.

>Learn something about prison life, then try again.

Well, I guess it’s a shame that it was inconvenient for Mr. Williams to help the police against the band of thugs and killers that he helped found. Hopefully he didn’t mind that it was inconvenient for Arnold to grant clemency.
But really, if he was primarily motivated to save his precious skin- i.e., by not testifying against other fellow Crips- why should Arnold or anyone else believe that he wasn’t just putting on a nice show to save his skin from the death chamber?

31

rilkefan 12.13.05 at 4:06 pm

Just chiming in to agree with Chris. SH seems to me to be missing the point of the disagreement, which is what degree of evidentiary merit the dedication has. In my view it has very little real significance and lowers the seriousness of Arnold’s decision. If SH had just said, “I disagree about the importance of the dedication”, instead of missing the point of the post entirely, the discussion would likely have been more productive.

32

Grand Moff Texan 12.13.05 at 4:13 pm

mj memphis:

It’s not like I care that he’s dead, I can just understand why he’d stick by the people who’re the only thing keeping him alive in jail.

So now you’ve arrived at: ‘because he didn’t do the thing that would’ve gotten him killed, he deserves no clemency.’ Sarcasm and false analogies won’t disguise the fact that that’s pretty piss-poor reasoning, and certainly not the basis of the decision.

Which, in case you’ve lost track, was the point.
.

33

MJ Memphis 12.13.05 at 4:18 pm

Rilkefan,

Why is the dedication not worth mentioning? Based on reading the statement in its entirety, it seems to fit with the context as one piece of evidence that Williams was neither repentant, nor reformed.

To give an analogy, what if Williams had been, rather than black and a co-founder of the Crips, white and a co-founder of a violent white supremacist group. Let’s say he was also arguing, based partly on his writings in prison, that he was reformed and deserving of clemency. If you open the books and find it dedicated to Matthew Hale, Tim McVeigh, etc., would you not view that as evidence that the claimed redemption was not so redemptive after all?

34

MJ Memphis 12.13.05 at 4:25 pm

gmt,

Nope, I understand your point that cooperating against his gang would have been hazardous to his health. Just as it is for, say, mafiosi types in jail.

But that goes back to the alleged “redemption”. If he wasn’t willing to go out of his way, to take on personal risk, to atone for his crimes, then why on earth should he have been considered any more deserving of clemency than any other murderer? Just because he’s sorry? Oh, wait, he wasn’t willing to say that, either. Color me unimpressed.

35

Chris Bertram 12.13.05 at 4:32 pm

To give an analogy…

Not an analogy worth seriously considering though.

(1) He dedicated a book called _Life in Prison_ to a _list_ of black prisoners, only one of whom was George Jackson.

(2) There is no serious comparison to be drawn between the Black Panthers and white racist supremacist groups. If you think there is then get yourself a copy of Bobby Seale’s _Seize the Time_ and read. (And whilst you’re about it get yourself a copy of _Soledad Brother_ and discover that George Jackson acquired all the characteristics you object to _after_ his incarceration.)

36

rilkefan 12.13.05 at 4:37 pm

mj, he was credited with negotiating a peace treaty of some effectiveness. He admitted to other crimes. The case against him depended on testimony by criminals rewarded for their testimony. The prosecution used preempts to keep blacks off the jury and was cited for racist statements. His probability of innocence wasn’t high, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with the above as a death penalty supporter.

If a dedication is material evidence in deciding whether to put a human being to death (and the substance of the book isn’t, for some reason), it surely behooved the state to get a reaction on that important point from the executee.

37

MJ Memphis 12.13.05 at 4:40 pm

>(1) He dedicated a book called Life in Prison to a list of black prisoners, only one of whom was George Jackson.

Alright then. Remove Matt Hale (can’t remember if he went to jail or not), and just say one of the alternate-universe list of white prisoners is Tim McVeigh. How does that change anything?

>There is no serious comparison to be drawn between the Black Panthers and white racist supremacist groups.

Actually, my exact parallel was Crips vs. violent white supremacists; not an exact parallel, but the best I could do on short notice. But let’s substitute “right-wing militia” instead, which the caveat that they happen to be almost entirely white and not fond of dark folks… whether black or, as Mr. Williams would say, “Buddhaheads.”

38

MJ Memphis 12.13.05 at 4:42 pm

rilkefan,

Perhaps you have seen some numbers showing the effectiveness of his treaty efforts. I have heard they were of negligible effect, but will confess to not having seen the numbers. And really, has anyone said that the dedication to the book was anything other than a piece of supporting evidence, against a backdrop of much more damning evidence?

39

Rob 12.13.05 at 5:16 pm

Ahh people are missing the richness of this coming from Scwarzenegger who has his own problems with voicing support to Austrian politicians.

40

Barbar 12.13.05 at 5:17 pm

Oddly enough I find myself in agreement with the right-wingers here.

To flip things around, the case for clemency never struck me as logically stronger than “The death penalty is wrong” (and this is fine, that is my position), but I’ve heard plenty of things about Nobel nominations, children’s books, and so on. What on earth would someone’s writing ability have to do with whether or not he should be executed? Bizarre.

41

Shelby 12.13.05 at 5:20 pm

grand moff texan:

What is the point of your point? “.”

If it’s meant to be annoying, it’s successful.

42

Ian Whitchurch 12.13.05 at 5:30 pm

“he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems,” the governor said.

So, whens the Governor applying to have California admitted to the United Kingdom, as that unpleasantness in 1776 was clearly a Bad Thing.

43

Jane 12.13.05 at 5:36 pm

It has been suggested that Dylan might be nominated for the Nobel Prize (for literature)next year. Might not his George Jackson song mitigate against that?

44

Michael 12.13.05 at 5:44 pm

As a reader of Crooked Timber, I like to think that this is one of the few places where an elevated discussion of ideas occurs, but I’m disappointed that this discussion has devolved as much as it has. You might believe, Chris, that some are missing your point, but I don’t see that as a reason for harshness, for not engaging others’ arguments point-by-point, or by using the facile excuse that “I’m a blogger.” If the point (as Rilkefan puts it, the degree of evidentiary merit the dedication has) is being missed, there should be a way to clarify it without attacking the supposed intellectual shortcomings of others. In addition, the points that others are making should be considered thoughtfully: that the evidentiary merit of the dedication cannot be divorced from its setting or that the dedication itself is incriminating. I haven’t seen that fully addressed.

Rilkefan begins a comment by stating: “If a dedication is material evidence in deciding whether to put a human being to death”; yes, this conditional statement is the issue. The dedication wasn’t material evidence in deciding to put a man to death; it was evidence (whether shaky or not) of an already-condemned man’s behavioral attitudes. From the state’s perspective, Williams’ dedication to Jackson looks like an implicit endorsement of behavior that Williams himself had planned to enact while in prison. Now, one might say that the state simply needed expedient reasons for denying clemency; one might also argue that a book dedication is hardly a measure of a man’s character or that it means nothing, but the only effective way to address this issue is to show exactly how the dedication is not an endorsement of behavior. I don’t think Chris’ post does this (nor do his responses), and I suspect that’s what’s needed here, and also why some readers are responding the way they are.

45

rilkefan 12.13.05 at 6:14 pm

michael, chris‘s “I’m a blogger” was in response to an accusation of obsession with irrelevancies of the sort he supposedly accused Arnold of. It seems to me his exasperation with people misunderstanding his simple point (he says [ill-advisedly] characteristically in SH‘s case) is understandable. He writes “I was reading serious document x and found shockingly trivial point y” confident of being clear.

How should one demonstrate the unimportance of a dedication, given an appropriate metric? Consider the argument at 1 here.

46

Michael 12.13.05 at 6:41 pm

Rilkefan, I do understand what animated Chris’ response, as well as why he’s frustrated, but I just don’t think that the way he went about expressing those responses is either fruitful or becoming. I felt that Steve and Sebastian made some interesting points, and I had hoped that he would have responded to those points fully and thoughtfully.

I thought the post you linked to was funny (I read the whole thing, in addition to no. 1), and also makes a good point, as you say, about the unimpotance of a dedication. But this gets me back to why I think a healthy, more substantive discussion on all sides would be helpful here — because I think the issue of the dedication is open to question. Mjmemphis raised an interesting point about how we might respond if the dedication was to someone else, and I don’t think that point should be put aside. If we think outside the Williams case for a moment, imagine if someone dedicated a book to Adolf Eichmann. Now, I know that’s an extreme example, and I do not mean to draw parallels at all between Eichmann and Jackson; that’s not what I’m doing. I’m just trying to show how maybe, just maybe, a dedication in and of itself isn’t unimportant in all cases; that maybe, just maybe, a dedication can carry a certain amount of weight. I suspect if I saw a book dedicated to Eichmann, I’d cringe and then question the attitude of the person who wrote the book. Of course, whether or not a dedication of that magnitude should be used to determine clemency for a death-row inmate is another matter, but attitudes are things that are considered when it comes to clemency, parole, or other types of reprieves.

By the way, I’m not suggesting at all that the fearless Governator was justified in using the dedication as an example — I’m just saying there are other ways of looking at this and trying to raise certain questions to which I don’t necessarily have answers. (And, also, ultimately I think something like a dedication should matter much less in light of other more incriminating arguments.)

47

a different chris 12.13.05 at 6:50 pm

I have what I think is a different take on the whole thing:

“What can Schwarzenegger have been thinking in including this in his statement?”

He was thinking “I gotta wack this guy for my base* but the tide is really, really turning against the death penalty. So I’m gonna throw everything we can possibly find, up to and including a kitchen sink he may have hit somebody with, in the justification. Because oddly, It’s not only Tookie that could use some sympathy, here.”

So I see no point in picking thru his justifications. The only interesting thing was pointed out by one bright guy here, who mentioned that this could backfire – cause there’s somebody out there only 1/2 as bad, and if you felt you needed all those justifications to kill Mr. ex-Crip, well, now you got a problem coming up.

*and to be fair, maybe even “I should, just on the merits, wack this..”

48

a different chris 12.13.05 at 6:53 pm

Shorter different chris: Who could possibly think what Schwartzy wrote had a single solitary thing to do with his decision?

He’s a politician, guys.

49

peter 12.13.05 at 7:21 pm

Though I am opposed to the death penalty, I am not sure why it is so inappropriate for Schwarzenegger to focus on this detail: the book is a prime example of the sort of evidence that Williams and his team offered of his “redemption.” That makes this little detail in the dedication fair game: Williams made it so. I was actually more surprised that, having made such an issue of George Jackson, the governor did not also talk a bit about the inclusion of Leonard Peltier in the dedication, since the same sort of logic could be applied.

As for the earlier post on the subject, the main reason that it took so long to execute Mr. Williams was his own appeals. Having so stretched out the process, it seems strange to suggest that he could then turn around and argue that so much time has passed that he is a different person. And obviously the surviving relatives of his victims are different people: Tookie saw to that the day he destroyed their lives.

Whatever else I think of the death penalty, Tookie Williams was, at the end of the day, a horrendous killer (you are kidding yourself if you think the killings he was convicted of were anything other than the tip of the iceberg: this is an unavoidable implication of the gangster lifestyle he himself freely admitted leading) who received more consideration and due process than many arguably less prolific murderers killed everyday in places like Texas. What is so special about this case?

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peter 12.13.05 at 7:31 pm

A bit off point (by which I mean completely off point) but one of the stranger angles to this saga is that Tookie probably lived far longer on death row than he ever would have had he not been arrested for these murders. He was a hard core Crip, and the laws of the jungle would almost certainly have caught up with him much faster than it took the laws of California to do so.

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Bro. Bartleby 12.13.05 at 7:31 pm

Just a thought on capital punishment and why many Christians seem confused with the issue.

The defining message of Judaism is concern for justice in the world, with Torah exploring justice and injustice from every angle imaginable. I think one could say, in Judaism, seeking justice in capital offenses make forgiveness, or clemency, antithetical to justice.

In Christianity, Jesus arrives on the scene and immediately confuses everyone. Yes justice, but justice with common sense and compassion and reason. No longer the black and white justice of Torah, but now justice considered in all the gradations of gray. We no longer can automatically start throwing stones, for Jesus asks us to take the justice of Torah, and add to it reason and common sense and compassion … before throwing the first stone. Of course that doesn’t preclude capital punishment, but it does make us stop to consider what we are really doing. And during that pause, many Christians (or those raised in a Judeo-Christian society) are conflicted, because it is far easier to act with just the mind, or to act with just the heart, than it is to act with both the mind and the heart.

Bro. Bartleby

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Michael 12.13.05 at 7:39 pm

“He’s a politician, guys.”

Yeah, there’s definitely truth to that. The people who voted him into office (many of whom later voted against his resolutions) most likely support the death penalty, and he’s going to need their support in the not-too-distant future.

“And obviously the surviving relatives of his victims are different people: Tookie saw to that the day he destroyed their lives.”

An excellent point, and one that has not been made often enough. It’s really too bad that the murdered victims are easily forgotten in all of this. As I suggested in an earlier comment, the pedantic discussions of Mr. Williams’ execution make their absense all the more glaring.

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burritoboy 12.13.05 at 9:01 pm

“He killed a prison guard in what he regarded as a race reprisal, and incited his 17-year-old brother to a rescue attempt that culminated in a judge’s grisly death.”

I don’t see why that should be regarded as a problem – any more than a Union solider killing a Confederate soldier is a problem, or American troops properly executing a Nazi judge is a problem. The state of California was clearly attempting to simply murder large numbers of black activists at the time and defending yourself against regimes attempting to murder you is surely permissible.

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Barbar 12.13.05 at 9:13 pm

Peter, thank you. What is more shocking, a plea for clemency based on authoring a book, or a response to such a plea?

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goatchowder 12.13.05 at 9:26 pm

This kind of Kafkaesque double-bind is a right-wing specialty here in the USA.

“He hasn’t let us inspect his weapons of mass destruction! Therefore he is guilty!” Um, he doesn’t *have* them anymore. “Then he is guilty!”

“He hasn’t expressed remorse! Therefore he is guilty!” Um, he claims he’s innocent. He can’t apologise for something he didn’t do, can he? “Then he is guilty!”

I would be delighted to see the lot of them turned into cockroaches. Then again, I’m not sure anyone would notice the difference.

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Barbar 12.13.05 at 9:42 pm

goatchowder, if he’s innocent, then what the flying f*** does his “redemption” have to do with anything?

I generally see very little to agree with the right-wingers here, but in this case they’re right.

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MJ Memphis 12.13.05 at 9:45 pm

goatchowder,

How novel for a convicted felon to claim innocence. Clearly his word should trump the multiple courts that have found him guilty over and over for 24 years.

Incidentally, I opposed the war because I didn’t believe there were any WMDs. I didn’t really care that Saddam Hussein said there weren’t any- I cared that the available evidence said that there weren’t any. Likewise, I couldn’t care less that Williams claimed he was innocent. Given the weight of evidence against him, it’s about as likely (actually, even less so) that he was innocent as that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had the mountains of WMD that Bush claimed before the war.

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rilkefan 12.13.05 at 10:10 pm

“if he’s innocent, then what the flying f*** does his “redemption” have to do with anything?”

We’re well past Kafka here. If you’re in prison, you must be guilty, therefore if you claim you are innocent you aren’t contrite and should be punished _more_, and if you’re a model prisoner after coming from a bad background and work effectively to help those likely to end up in prison, that’s just you’re being “innocent” so it doesn’t count.

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MJ Memphis 12.13.05 at 10:16 pm

>We’re well past Kafka here. If you’re in prison, you must be guilty, therefore if you claim you are innocent you aren’t contrite and should be punished more, and if you’re a model prisoner after coming from a bad background and work effectively to help those likely to end up in prison, that’s just you’re being “innocent” so it doesn’t count.

Nice strawman you got there. So, in what alternate universe does assaulting guards and other inmates, reportedly ordering stabbings of rival gang members, drawing up plans to murder guards and fellow inmates in order to escape prison, and refusing to help bring members of your former gang to justice make one a model prisoner?

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Barbar 12.13.05 at 10:38 pm

Oh wow it must be maddening to live in such an insane world, rilkefan. But riddle me this: is Tookie innocent or not?

If Tookie is innocent, then people shouldn’t waste their time telling me that he wrote some books, because that kind of pales next to the gross injustice of an innocent man being put to death by the state. If Tookie is innocent, then he could be an illiterate insufferable thug for all I care, he shouldn’t be in jail much less put to death.

If Tookie is not innocent of murdering four human beings, then I’m glad he was a model prisoner and did some good things in prison before dying, but once again I don’t care that he wrote some books. Distinguishing between death-row cases shouldn’t be a matter of treating the literary types more leniently.

End of story. There’s a huge flaw in the redemption narrative, which is that he went to his death denying the murders. That doesn’t make him guilty, but it makes redemption completely irrelevant. Either he killed those people or he didn’t.

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Gar Lipow 12.13.05 at 11:50 pm

>End of story. There’s a huge flaw in the redemption narrative, which is that he went to his death denying the murders. That doesn’t make him guilty, but it makes redemption completely irrelevant. Either he killed those people or he didn’t.

No. Regardless of whether he was guilty of killing those people he was guilty of helping to found the Crips, and of committing the crimes needed to become a Crip leader. So even if not guility of the crime for which he was convicted he still needed redemption. If his claim of innocence of he four murders for which he was executed is true, and his claim of having sincerely repented of the truly horrible and inhuman things he did is also true, then his refusal to to apologize for the one set of crimes he did not commits is a sign of true repentence – refusing to lie even when it might have saved his life. Was he in fact innocent of the four murders he was executed for? I don’t know – but he was convicted largely on the testimony of jailhouse snitches. I know a number of defense attorneys, and they pretty much universally agree that jailhouse snitches routinely make up confessions for other prisoners. There was a famous case where a prisoner told his attorney that he had been put in cell with a snitch and had no intention of saying a word to him. He put tape over his mouth so the snitch he roomed with could not make up a confession. The snitch testified at his trial that the prisoner wrote a confession on a piece of note paper, showed it to the snitch, and then flushed it down the toilet.

In terms of not turning snitch himself; that might be part of repetence too. Changing your values does not mean every single one of your old values is turned upside down. “Snitch” is one of the worst you can be called in street life. (Not that it is that uncommmon; if nobody did it, it would not be so hated.) In trying to seek a new, less evil set of values he might have continued to consider snitching an evil thing, and refused to do it on principle. To tell you the truth, though not raised on the code of the street or anything, I was raised with a healthy contempt for snitches and stool pigeons myself.

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BigMacAttack 12.14.05 at 12:11 am

Gar Lipow,

So you are pissed that he is being executed for the wrong set of atrocities?

And you think writing anti gang books redeem this other set of atrocities?

But just vague stuff like founding the crips?

Nothing specific like rape or a different murder or robbery or a drug deal that that qualifies as a major felony? Right?

Because he has repented for a bunch of that stuff. Right? Specifically apologized to his victims etc. Right?

Please make me eat my hat, instead of engaging in some school boy debating antics.

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MJ Memphis 12.14.05 at 12:13 am

>In terms of not turning snitch himself; that might be part of repetence too. Changing your values does not mean every single one of your old values is turned upside down. “Snitch” is one of the worst you can be called in street life.

Understood. However, in this case, this particular “value” of his had concrete effects on real people. His former gang has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of people. If he wanted to stand on “principle” and not be a snitch, that was his right. But it does show that he considered his old street values to be more important than mitigating some of the harm that he did with his earlier actions. This does not exactly mesh with the redemption narrative.

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rilkefan 12.14.05 at 12:29 am

“If Tookie is innocent, then people shouldn’t waste their time telling me that he wrote some books, because that kind of pales next to the gross injustice of an innocent man being put to death by the state.”

Allow me to doubt your interest in his guilt, given your failure to have read the clemency petition or any of the simple summaries floating around the liberal blogosphere, not to mention this very thread.

“Oh wow it must be maddening to live in such an insane world, rilkefan.”

Anyone not aware of the awful state of the world relative to reasonable ideals is dumb as a stump – sorry to be the one to enlighten you. However, as a nihilist, I’m able to take the insanity in stride most of the time.

Re the model prisoner question, check out the timeline.

Re Christianity and capital punishment, anyone who thinks Jesus would have injected Williams with poison, please speak up now so St. Pete can have a good laugh when the time comes.

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rilkefan 12.14.05 at 12:42 am

“So you are pissed that he is being executed for the wrong set of atrocities?”

What, justice is done as long as the guy was guilty of something, trial be damned? That’s how we get cops who just _know_ a perp is guilty but they can’t prove it so they make up a little evidence. That’s how we get vigilantes, and lynch mobs, and fascism. No thanks.

Amazing that chris is snapping at SH when there are people here David Neiwert should be monitoring.

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bad Jim 12.14.05 at 1:45 am

Justice Blackmun wound up writing, “I shall no more tinker with the machinery of death”. He did think that it was, in theory, appropriate to kill people for their crimes, but despaired that, in practice, we could ever do it justly.

The problem isn’t just the occasional execution of innocents, something that most of us who eat meat and wear leather implicitly conscience, at one level or another, although preferably not consciously. (FWIW, I’m in that number.)

There is also the problem that entire groups of perpetrators reliably escape this ultimate sanction. The problem isn’t only that blacks are executed; it’s also a problem that whites aren’t executed. It’s unfair that the poor die; it’s also unfair that the rich don’t.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that advocates of capital punishment are rarely heard to complain that whites or the wealthy are so seldom executed, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t outrageous.

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Chris Bertram 12.14.05 at 2:38 am

Amazing that chris is snapping at SH when there are people here David Neiwert should be monitoring.

Don’t disagree with you there. But I live in a different timezone and just woke up. This discussion has passed the point of being interesting, if it ever got there.

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peter 12.14.05 at 6:21 am

This discussion has passed the point of being interesting, if it ever got there.

Its a shame that you feel that way: I think a lot of serious responses to your original post have been offered. If this is where you were going to end things off, then what was the point of getting going in the first place?

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Matt McIrvin 12.14.05 at 9:49 am

…that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems,” the governor said.

Says Arnold Schwarzenegger, noted pacifist. I’m aware that if you star in countless movies about solving problems by mowing down bad guys with machine-gun fire, that isn’t necessarily a reflection of your moral attitudes about the good society, but there’s still something darkly hilarious about this line.

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Barbar 12.14.05 at 10:15 am

The reason this discussion is idiotic is because some people apparently think that fascist Arnold Schwarzenegger was digging for reasons to come up with justifying the execution, and he dug up some books Williams happeneded to write, found a dedication to someone he didn’t like, and thought that was a good thing to throw in there.

Look around the internet, or read some op-eds, and you’ll find plenty of people who think that the Nobel nominations and letters from children are compelling reasons to overturn a death sentence. To disgregard this context, and to pretend that the dedication point is a direct rebuttal to charges of inconclusive evidence and failed justice — well, if you live in a Kafkaesque world it is partly of your own making.

The case against the death penalty does not depend on Tookie reforming (when he denies committing the murders), Tookie writing books, Schwarzanegger citing a dedication, supporters of the death penalty being fascists, or rilkefan having doubts about how much I care about Tookie’s innocence. These points are logically irrelevant, and they don’t really seem to work from a poltical view either. An argument against the death penalty that dances around the fact that Tookie is probably guilty strikes me as politically harmful, not helpful.

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Jim_L 12.14.05 at 11:11 am

An argument against the death penalty that dances around the fact that Tookie is probably guilty strikes me as politically harmful, not helpful.

Yes. Despite everything I can’t read Chris’ comment other than an argument against the death penalty.

And once again a comment on CT, with whose end message one agrees (I am against capital punishment, as I am against, say, torture, secret rendition, the current administration in Washington, etc.), is packaged so smugly as to elicit an opposing response.

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James Wimberley 12.14.05 at 11:41 am

I’m suspicious of the language of “redemption” here. It’s now essentially a term in Christian theology, and its original secular meaning of payment to free a slave or captive (Cervantes was redeemed in this sense from the Algerian galleys) is obsolete. It implies a final judgement of a person’s worth we – including Schwarzenegger – should be reluctant to make. (In Christian theology, redemption cannot be earned, and is only rarely known).

I suggest that in the context of restorative justice we should limit ourselves to three secular meanings:

– restitution, which can be observed in a straightforward way, either to the victims or their proxies;

– repentance, where the negative can sometimes be proved (“he had it coming and given the chance I’d do it again”) but the positive is a difficult matter of judgement;
– forgiveness by victims or their proxies, which is more or less impossible to fake, though if it had more weight in the penal system one would need to guard against coercion by associates. Of course, forgiveness has to be the free choice of the victims taking account of their view of the perpetrator’s repentance and/or restitution; non-forgiveness is the other side of the coin.

Most of those who argue (as in in this thread) for consideration of victims assume that all they want is retribution. I do not believe this is true as a matter of fact. Experiments in restorative justice that include opportunities for restitution and forgiveness have beeen carried out, I believe with success, in more civilised countries than the USA. Any hard data anyone?

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peter 12.14.05 at 12:35 pm

To help find such data, James, it would help if we first knew your list of countries more civilised than the USA.

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Bro. Bartleby 12.14.05 at 12:45 pm

For a current experiment in restorative justice google “Umuvumu Tree Project in Rwanda” or “Rwanda Ministry of Reconciliation”

Imagine having over a 100,000 murderers (genocide offenders) in your prisons awaiting trial.

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Michael 12.14.05 at 12:55 pm

Two responses:

Chris says: “This discussion has passed the point of being interesting, if it ever got there.”

Yeah, and you have a great deal of responsibility (perhaps more than anyone) for this.

James says: “Most of those who argue (as in in this thread) for consideration of victims assume that all they want is retribution. “

I wouldn’t generalize about that — I, for one, certainly don’t make that assumption. I’ll argue for the consideration of victims regardless of what the victims want, whether its retribution, restitution, or forgiveness. What victims might want and what is an appropriate response to a heinous crime are two different things.

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Chris Bertram 12.14.05 at 1:04 pm

Yes, I probably ought to police comments more aggressively. But instead I let you come here and say what you like.

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Barbar 12.14.05 at 1:52 pm

Which comments here should you have policed, Chris?

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of the logic of the thread:

1. No one thinks the dedication was a tipping point, so strictly speaking the post has no content.

2. If you were genuinely baffled by the Schwarzenegger’s citation of the dedication, then you should have expressed some interest in the explanation — which is that many of Williams’s supporters cited his book-writing as a reason for clemency.

3. People are apparently much more comfortable arguing that supporters of the death penalty are scum than they are articulating a strong argument against capital punishment. Oh well.

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rilkefan 12.14.05 at 2:32 pm

“No one thinks the dedication was a tipping point [sic]”

Maybe people think it was the straw on the camel’s back, or the slip twixt cup and lip, or the last brick in the wall, or the wafer-thin mint down Mr. Creosote’s gullet.

Consider this hypothetical Arnold argument: “Tookie’s a bad bad man, and what sort of name is ‘Tookie’ anyway?” CT response: Arnold is being shockingly childish in a solemn moment. barbar‘s riposte: “‘Tookie’ wasn’t a tipping point”.

2 is nonsense.

3 ditto, plus the fry-Tookie crowd here apparently can’t be bothered to look into the clemency case.

Anyway, the man is dead. Oh well. Too bad about the quality of discourse at CT if this thread is an example.

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Barbar 12.14.05 at 2:56 pm

How incredibly asinine.

Here it seems that if it tipped the balance of Schwarzenegger’s decision, Williams’s dedication of a book to a controversial historical figure, may have cost him his life.

If no one thinks that the dedication was a tipping point, then what exactly does the above mean? What purpose does it serve in debate? And do you see how moronic your imagined dialogue between Arnold, CT, and Barbar is, when you pretend that *I* introduced the notion of the tipping point into the discussion? (By the way, the italicized quote above is a direct quote from Chris Bertram’s original post, in case you haven’t read it.)

And how is 2 nonsense? Are you saying that redemption wasn’t an argument advanced on Williams’s behalf, and therefore the governor was way out of bounds in referring to it in his explanation? No, you don’t say anything at all, and pretend that what you believe is so self-evident that the people who disagree with you must be evil Nazis.

As far as 3 is concerned, all I can say is that I’m disappointed that someone who opposes the death penalty so much can’t be bothered to argue, “The death penalty is always wrong, because the power of deciding life and death should not be placed in the hands of the state… First, the consequences are so severe that the tiniest amount of doubt should deter us from execution. In this case, for example, although it seems quite likely that Williams committed the four murders it remains the case that this is not known for sure, for reasons X Y and Z… ” etc etc.

Instead we get crap like “Williams confessed to other crimes” as if that’s going to engender a reaction other than eye-rolling. Oh yeah, and we are implored to look elsewhere for good arguments for clemency, because we all know that rilkefan is incapable of making arguments for himself, but he knows that the blogger at TalkLeft is pretty smart.

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