This morning, Tookie Williams was sent to whatever fate awaits us when our time on the planet ends.
I have been torn about this whole situation and that's why I have remained silent when usually you can't shut me up about anything.
There are times when the death penalty fits, and although rough justice, it's justice. Certainly when someone literally put a stake through Jeffrey Dahmer's heart it felt like justice, even though it was not the State doing the killing but one of Dahmer's fellow prisoners and fellow-sufferers of mental illness. Certainly Charles Manson and his hitmen/women should have paid with their lives for what they did at the Tate house and the LaBianca house. The brief end of the Death Penalty put the kibosh on that, and they will remain behind bars forever, and continue to fire the imaginations of sick people who actually think Charlie's racist, nihilist dream of Helter Skelter is a good idea.
There are times when death is just too good for some folks. Tookie Williams' end was like someone being put under anaesthesia, only he will never be awakened. That's an easy death. That's not like the old barbaric methods like electrocution and hanging and worst of all, the gas chamber, which California used up until about a decade ago and which was considered a "humane" way to die. A firing squad's more humane than any of those, and lethal injection more humane than all of them combined.
Some people should be locked up until they die. They should never see the sun or breathe the air. They should be kept away from humanity but never given the dignity of an execution until the end of their natural lives. This will afford them the time to reflect on their deeds. This of course does not work in the cases of what the DSM-IV TR calls Antisocial Personality Disorder, and what we colloquially call a "Psychopath" or a "Sociopath." Those folks don't have a conscience to bug them about the wrongs they have committed against their fellow humans. Ted Bundy was a classic case of this sort of person: charming, witty, calculating and utterly cold on the inside. He had no remorse about what he did, and only feigned his religious "awakening" in hopes of perhaps getting away with his crimes or at least not dying for his crimes.
It is people like these who should be executed when they commit heinous crimes. It is estimated that only 1% to 2% of all people are Antisocial Personality Disorder cases. One of the distinctive elements of APD is that these people simply do not learn from classical conditioning. Rewards and punishments mean nothing to them. Since many of them are charming and charismatic, not every APD case winds up as a criminal. Some wind up in business, and their ruthlessness serves them well climbing the ladder. Some of them wind up in the military, a classic place for their kind. Evolutionary Psychologists have made the suggestion that APD survived in the human race because those who had the disorder often became brilliant and highly successful chieftains and warlords. And some of them wind up in politics. The psychologist and Anarchist theorist Alex Comfort suggested that power attracts "delinquents," and "delinquent" is yet another colloquialism for an APD case.
However, most of us are not conscienceless monsters. Most of us feel guilty after doing something wrong. For most of us, one's conscience is completely operational, probably even hyperactive. For the average person, imprisonment, exile, shunning, and other punishments of isolation are enough.
In California, capital punishment is rare and the wheels grind slowly. It is a pace that gives me more comfort about how the death penalty is carried out here than in other places. Some people hate this, and long for us to be another Texas which has a system more akin to a meat grinder, through which mostly people of color move through rapidly and with an efficiency more like Soviet Russia, the People's Republic of China and (Godwin be damned!) Nazi Germany. George W. Bush proved a big fan of capital punishment and seemed to relish the task of signing death warrants. One can almost see the roots of what his Presidency would become from his mockery of Karla Faye Tucker. "Please don't kill me! Waaaah!" he said with a big grin in a high-pitched falsetto voice.
It is distressing that people tend to get on California's Death Row by killing White people. However, it is interesting to note that of the 12 people executed since 1977 and the reinstatement of the Death Penalty in California most have also been White. However, those sociological dynamics will change if California steps up the pace of administering capital punishment. Most people on Death Row here are Latino. The next highest concentration is Black. Non-Hispanic Whites come next, then Asians. As in other states, California metes out the ultimate punishment more to non-Whites than Whites. And also it condemns people more for the killing of Whites than the killing of non-Whites.
The choice made in Illinois to declare a moratorium on the carrying out of executions to allow for a thorough investigation of all capital cases, including the use of DNA tests and other ways of ferreting out potentially exculpatory information. There have been enough people who have been sprung from Death Row thanks to DNA testing that one should call into question how many people waiting to die actually deserve to die. California should take the opportunity of the slowness of the system here to make absolutely, positively sure that there aren't any innocent or at least non-guilty folks among the numbers in San Quentin's condemned house.
I also think a new, super-standard for guilt in death penalty cases should be instituted. In cases where a person's life is on the line, you had better be positive that you have the person who committed the murder or solicited the commission of the murder. (I don't think any other crime except for Treason in time of War has a death penalty.) "Beyond a reasonable doubt" doesn't cut it. We have technology now which can narrow things down considerably, although it is not 100% foolproof. There are enough fools working in the LAPD crime labs that even something as reliable in competent hands as DNA can be botched from time to time.
I can't say I am against the death penalty. But in some parts of this country it's applied far too lightly. Particularly if you are a person of Color or if you are poor. Was Tookie Williams guilty or did we kill an innocent, or at least a changed, human being? We will never know. We will also never know about the others who have died. It is time to make sure only 100% proven multiple murderers are executed in this country. We can do this. And we should do this.