Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ah-nold vs. the Death Penalty

The execution of Tookie Williams in Califonria early Tuesday has, like few cases lately, stirred debate on the value and righteousness of the death penalty. Some in Arnold Schwarzenegger's native Austria, where the death penalty is not an option, have called for the revocation of his citizenship as a result of his refusal to grant Williams clemency. Others around Europe have also voiced their outrage. As happens frequently with most people in high office, "The Governator" was presented with a no-win decision. One has to wonder if he went with his heart, or went with what he thought was expected, given his political positioning.

Personally, I've gone back and forth on the death penalty through the years. As of this writing, I'm leaning toward being anti-death penalty. My current thinking is that the judicial system is never going to be proficient enough to get it right one hundred percent of the time. There are too many humans involved. And, even though some defendants may be unquestionably guilty, the sanctioning of the death penalty opens the door to the mistaken execution of others. I do not have enough faith in the system to be totally confident that death is appropriate in each potential instance where it's sought. There are too many variables between the time of the crime and the eventual punishment. And executing one innocent person, ever, is too many. Ending a life cannot be un-done. That same person could be let out of prison after it's discovered they are innocent, as long as they are still breathing.

Having said all that, I have to laugh at the "holier than thou" comments of those who find fault with Schwarzenegger on this particular case. Here are a few I've seen:

Peter Pilz, a leader of the Green Party in Austria--"Whoever, out of political calculation, allows the death of a person rehabilitated in such an exemplary manner has rejected the basic values of Austrian society."

Richard Schadauer, the chairman of the Association of Christianity and Social Democracy--"Mr. Williams had converted, and unlike Mr. Schwarzenegger, opposed every form of violence."

Julien Dray, a spokesman for the Socialist Party in France--"I am proud to be a Frenchman, I am proud to live in France, in a country where we don't execute somebody 21 years later. Schwarzenegger has a lot of muscles, but apparently not much heart."

Similar statements have come from a number of the usual particpants on this issue.

What amuses, and mystifies, me about these comments is the lack of attention to the actual crimes committed by the defendant. You would believe by their words that Williams was some sort of saint being executed despite his overwhelming contributions to peace on earth and good will toward men. This guy took the lives of four innocent people. And there is no reasonable doubt about that. We can also be pretty sure that as a founding member of Los Angeles' Crips gang, he has been involved in, if not responsible for, a number of other deadly crimes. And, as Schwarzenegger points out, Williams never apologized, or took responsiblity, for anything. He just started writing childrens books in prison that made it appear he was a "changed man". We can only wonder now if he actually was.

The anti-death penalty commentators would do well to at least acknowledge the victims and their families if anyone is to accept their ideas. Standing up for the life of the person to be executed only garners so much favor. Showing an understanding of the heinous behavior that landed that person in the death chamber, and a modicum of empathy for the victims, might actually produce headway for their cause. Accusing an elected official of being a barbarian by allowing the judicial system to run it's course is not going to sway much opinion, cetainly not among those who already believe the death penalty appropriate.

I would like to hear just one of the anti-death penalty spokespeople be thoughtful enough to say--

"Obviously, Mr. Williams was guilty. God bless the victims and their families. There can be no adequate compensation for them. But no human being, or system devised by human beings, should be allowed to take the life of another human being. The lives of those taken by Mr. Williams should not be dishonored by any potentially mistaken execution. Real justice would not be served in that way. Mr. Williams should do whatever good he can, and make whatever amends with God possible, from a prison cell. Knowing that this man will never harm another person outside prison, and that he will know the hell of a penetentiary for as long as he lives, ought to be enough satisfaction for us all."

Perhaps if the anti-death penalty people were as caring about the lives of the victims, and able to show an understanding of the total picture, some who disagree with them may see their arguments in a different light.

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