In present-day America, the economic cost of a "no death penalty" policy combines with a cynical, pragmatic social climate -- to trump the mid-20th Century belief system that I grew up with: an enlightened justice system offers the possibilities of restitution and redemption, even to convicted murderers.
If you asked cranky old me (which you didn't), I'd be tempted to launch into this subjective (and possibly irrelevant) lament: Our collective notions about justice in the United States have changed significantly in the last thirty years. We no longer enshrine the blindfolded Lady Justice holding the scales. We no longer make movies featuring that wise, white-haired angel with the ledger book. We're down to Jimmy Cliff. "The harder they come, the harder they fall." We're back to "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." (And yes, I know that "an eye for an eye" was invented in biblical times as a policy of moderation and judicial restraint. But in more recent times, we've been innovative enough to try experimenting with "a seeing eye dog for an eye." )
In current America, the economic force behind death penalty advocacy ("we can't afford justice the other way") is combined with attitudinal stances:
"Murderers should get what they've earned: death."
"I'm good. I didn't kill anyone and I'm hurting. Why should I pay taxes for bad guys to live?"
"If a criminal inflicts damage on Society, Society should inflict equal damage on the criminal."
"Right back at ya."
Punish the ones who screw up to "the fullest extent of the law," to set scary examples and "assuage the grief of the victims." We're a society that's becoming poorer spiritually as well as financially.
"To assuage the grief of the victims...." That's the biggest change in the blindfolded justice paradigm over 50 years. (Geek ob cit: Terry Bisson's "macs.")
But I don't so much want to rant about the socioeconomic forces that have brought the death penalty back into vogue in the United States. (Jon Carroll does that in today's San Francisco Chronicle.)
I want to do two things:
a) Express my sadness that we're throwing away the now-useful life of Tookie Williams; a life that's actually saving other lives. A life that's acting as a much greater deterrent to crime than his dead body ever will.
b) Question the system that our governor is enforcing: "if you don't confess to the crime that you've been convicted of, the law must kill you -- no matter what you've done (or the State has compelled you to do) to repay the victims, no matter that you no longer pose a threat to society."
I don't know whether Williams was guilty or innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. (I do wonder, at this point, why he would fail to confess if he were guilty. It's hard to believe that a guilty man with the intelligence Williams displays in his writings would gamble his life on a bluff, when all he had to do to save his life would be to admit his guilt.)
That's a weight on the other side of the scale from "so expensive to incarcerate them" -- the possibility/probability of judicial error.
From Julianne Malveaux on the BET network that Aaron Macgruder so often ridicules:
"Stanley Tookie Williams is just one of the 3,415 people on death row in the United States, just one of nearly 650 on death row in California. More than 40 percent of those awaiting execution are African American, even though we are less than 13 percent of the nation’s population.
The death penalty isn’t fair – too many death row inmates have been unrepresented or inadequately represented. Too many have been convicted on faulty circumstantial or eyewitness evidence. Too many mistakes have been uncovered after conviction, so many that the state of Illinois has suspended executions indefinitely.
We should simply eliminate the death penalty, especially as there is no evidence to suggest that it deters commission of crime, and since it is so unevenly applied. Those who are convicted of killing White people are far more likely to get the death penalty than those convicted of killing people of color."