Fulcrum Ruminations

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Of Tookies and Mortality

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed last night by the state of California. The means was lethal injection. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was the aging gangster's last hope for life, but refused to overturn the court's verdict.

No, I'm not providing a link. If you need me to find a link for you, you probably shouldn't be using the internet.

I of course did not know Williams except thru the distorted lens of the media. The portrait painted of him was an ugly one, showcasing a life of violence and bloodshed. He was one of the founders of a murderous criminal gang. By all accounts he never indicated any remorse for his actions or took responsibility. My personal opinion is that the planet is better off without him on it, but that is neither here nor there.

What concerns me is the death penalty. It's one of those issues which deeply divides people. Those who are for it are generally very for it in a regrettable sort of way. Those who are against it are passionately against it. Perhaps no other issue (with the possible exception of abortion) draws such diametrically opposed positions.

It is perhaps appropriate to consider abortion and capital punishment as two of a kind . . . one deals with the beginning of life, the other deals with the end. There is symmetry, which I find to be the absolute governing principle of the universe.

But we're not going to consider abortion just now, if that's all right with you, gentle reader.

In the case of capital punishment, the state is exercising its most frightening power - the power to end the life of an individual who has been determined to be a clear and present danger to society. Which, strangely, is the fulcrum of this particular issue. Before you take a life, you have to be certain that you're taking the right one. Any doubt, no matter how slight, should take the death penalty off the table. Now, the universe being the oddball sort of place that it is, there are from time to time cases where there is no doubt that the state has the right person in its sights. Multiple witnesses, overwhelming evidence, uncoerced confession, some or all of which are combined with a particularly heinous crime. Jeffrey Dahmer springs to mind.

Tookie seems to have sat himself right on the borderline of what I'd consider appropriate use of the death penalty. The world is no worse off for his absence from it, but I think he'd have been a better example to the kids if he'd been left to rot anonymously in prison for the rest of his natural life.

There are those who argue that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. Those people are wrong. The death penalty is an absolute deterrent to the person upon whom it is inflicted. Removing Tookie from the world, for example, is one hundred percent effective in preventing him from murdering anyone else.

So put me down as supporting capital punishment, tho only in the case of the most clear-cut and horrific of crimes.


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