On Dec. 13, unless the unlikely happens and clemency is granted to him by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stanley “Tookie” Williams will die by lethal injection just after midnight. Williams, who was convicted of gunning down four people in 1979, has steadfastly maintained his innocence over the last 26 years, but no court that has reviewed his case has allowed it to be reopened.
Opponents of the death penalty, celebrities and Tookie fans (he has written a series of children’s books about the dangers of gang life) have come out of the woodwork over the past few months. “Save Tookie!” has become their favorite slogan — if anyone should be granted clemency, they say, it’s Tookie, as he has worked so hard while in jail to turn his life around.
However, emotions and redemption aside, the most compelling argument against the execution of Tookie Williams is really an argument that would save the lives of all death row inmates. Simply put, our legal system is not perfect and it most likely never will be. We put innocent people in jail; we execute innocent people and that is a matter of fact. There is an incredibly disproportionate amount of African American men in America’s penal system as compared to white men. Our justice system is fallible. And, because we know that, because there is the possibility of putting innocent people to death, and because it has happened, we need to put an end to the death penalty in this country.
Some will say that that murderers need to be put to death and that life sentences are costing us too many tax dollars.
And there is the litmus test — where most people who theoretically oppose the death penalty waver: What if a family member or someone you dearly love was murdered? Wouldn’t at least a small part of you want the person convicted of that murder put to death? Well, yes, of course. Revenge, closure, justice, these are things that we all want because we are human. There is nothing wrong with that gut reaction.
But what if we turned the tables on this litmus test? What if your brother were wrongly accused of murdering someone? What if he maintained his innocence through the whole trial, but was convicted regardless. What if he was put to death via lethal injection? Years later, when the evidence that would have exonerated him comes to light, or the evidence used to convict him is found to have been tampered with — when his innocence is proven after he is already gone, then who will you want put to death for his senseless murder? The judge, the prosecutor, the jury members, the crime scene investigators? It’s hard to know where to direct that natural need for revenge, closure and justice when it is a system regulated and sanctioned by the state that perpetrates the murder of your family member or loved one.
Chances are, on Dec. 13, Stanley “Tookie” Williams will die. Chances are, he will maintain his innocence until his final breath. Of course, that doesn’t mean he is innocent. In fact, there is more than a good chance he is guilty. But … what if?