It's a busy day, but I did want to briefly post about the battle to save the life of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.
One of the few things I've been consistent on throughout my life is my opposition to the death penalty. That opposition is not rooted in a fear that the innocent may be executed; it isn't rooted in an ignorance as to the horror of the crimes invariably involved. It is rooted in the conviction that everyone who participates in an execution is invariably brutalized, even if they aren't entirely aware of it at the time. The guards, the wardens, the witnesses, and the citizens of the state in whose name the execution is carried out are all a bit darker, a bit less human, as a result.
My mother reminded me last night of this famous Shaw line that seems most apropos: It is the deed that teaches, not the name we give it. The message of capital punishment is not a life-valuing message. As the old bumper sticker says, it makes no sense to "Kill people who kill people to prove that killing people is wrong." The message of the death penalty is that we, the people, ought to have sovereign power over life itself, and that is a message I believe to be utterly at odds with the Gospel message.
But l'm troubled by the focus on Tookie's story of redemption. For me, at least, it makes not an iota of difference whether he has redeemed himself or not. Obviously, I'm glad he's done the work he has. But authentic and consistent opposition to the death penalty must be based on the abhorrence of state-sanctioned murder, not on the perceived virtues of the condemned. I'm as opposed to the death penalty for the vicious and the apparently irredeemable as I am for the Tookie Williamses of the world. If Tookie Williams is executed, I will grieve neither more nor less than I do any other execution committed in my name.
That doesn't mean I'm not praying for clemency, and I've already contacted Gov. Schwarzenegger by e-mail and phone to express that to him.