Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Nate Mezmer ~ If a Black Man Dies in America, Does It Make a Sound? Killing Tookie Williams

from CounterPunch.org

If Stan Tookie Williams is executed tomorrow who will feel the negative effects? Most of those who support his state sponsored murder do not live in war torn regions of the Golden State of California. Thus it is difficult for these privileged people to understand the benefits of Stan's contributions on behalf of non-violence. However, because blacks are sentenced to death twice as frequently as whites who've been convicted of the same crime it appears that this may be more than a misunderstanding.

If a young black man is shot in South Central does it make a sound in Thousand Oaks?

If Stan Tookie Williams is executed tomorrow who will feel the negative effects? Stan was convicted of four murders 25 years ago in connection with armed-robbery however the key witnesses were felons who recieved 'benefits' in exchange for their testimony ( facts of the case). I have encountered many people who say that since Stan was a gang-banger and a co-founder of the Crips that such facts alone should condemn him despite his transformation. This notion is almost laughable if it were not so dubious, especially in light of the fact that our own country, the United States of America, is currently disguising the hostile takeover of oil-rich Iraq as a righteous crusade for freedom.

If a young black man is shot in Hunter's Point does it make a sound in Hillsborough?

If Stan Tookie Williams is executed tomorrow who will feel the negative effects? The current administration in the White House is the most mafia regime in the history of the country and is thus run by some of the biggest gangsters in the world. The war in Iraq, a war based on falsehoods and conspiracies, collusion and neglegence, has been responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent civilians and has taken the lives of more than 2,100 US soldiers. This being said, no one is calling for the execution of the president?

If a young black man is shot in Watts does it make a sound in Orange County?

If Stan Tookie Williams is executed tomorrow who will feel the negative effects? Indeed, lessons in retribution and justice in the form of war and execution never seem to get the job done. After, 9/11 we haphazardly attacked two countries, enraging large portions of the global community and subsequently created a greater terror threat than had existed before. Maybe if we had stopped to understand why the attacks had occurred in the first place our nation and its soldiers would not be in the same deadly predicament? Furthermore, because violence begets violence, as the bumper sticker says, "why do we kill people who kill people, to show that killing people is wrong?"


more here

6 comments:

Daniel said...

If a convicted criminal refuses to admit guilt for his crimes, does anyone advocating clemency for him care?

eugene ionesco said...

Convicted or not, in the absence of a plausible argument in favour of the infallibility of the legal system (the judiciary and, in this case, an all-white jury), it's quite possible that this convicted "criminal" was not "refusing to admit guilt for his crimes", but rather protesting his innocence.

"Does anyone advocating clemency for him care?"

About what? His refusal to admit guilt/willingness to protest innocence. I'd imagine, though I can't be sure, that they might have been more concerned with the "facts" of the case (as they've reconstructed/interpreted them) than with the subject of their advocations of clemency's public pronouncements i.e. did they believe he was innocent, rather than did Tookie say he was innocent.

Others amongst them might care rather more for Tookie's subsequent good works than for the "minutiae" of his original guilt or innocence. They might consider that his award-winning (anti-violence) books for schoolchilren, anti-gang initiatives and Nobel Peace Prize nominations might attest, if not to innocence of the original crime, then at least to a reformed man with a demonstrable capacity, and willingness, to change the opinions, perceptions and experiences of disadvantaged and disaffected young people for the better.

Others still, amongst those advocates of clemency, might simply believe, as Nate mentions in the article, that it is absurd and illogical, not to mention unethical, to kill people to demonstrate that killing is wrong.

Daniel said...

1). Stop believing the propaganda, it was not an all-white jury. It would be nice if people who debated these issues actually stuck to the facts.

2). Since it is impossible to have an infallible anything, would you propose that no one ever be convicted of anything because there might be the infinitesimal possibility of error. (By the way, do you believe O.J. Simpson is innocent?)

3). Mr. Williams had 25 years to appeal his conviction. He did several times. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (check them out, they've been quite liberal in their pronouncements), rejected his appeal. No one pretending this man is innocent has given a plausible argument to show that something went wrong in the original trial. If you have facts which show otherwise, I'd love to see them.

4). As for his "good works" I would love to see the numbers on just how many people have stopped committing crimes because of this man. Before Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon, most people did not know who Tookie Williams was. People in gangs don't tend to read books. And furthermore, I think, and I'm sure his victims agree, that it does matter whether or not he admits his guilt. And yes, regardless of the crass propaganda, he is guilty.

eugene ionesco said...

Daniel,

"1) Stop believing the propaganda..."

One of the "propagandists"-in-chief is Phil Gasper, Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame de Namur University in California. He said: To get the charges to stick, the prosecutor in the case, Robert Martin, used blatant racism. The trial was moved from Los Angeles to Torrance, a predominantly white, highly conservative area. All the African-Americans in the jury pool were dismissed and Stan's case was heard by an all-white jury.
As you've already dismissed that assertion, I doubt you'd be interested in the rest of his opinion, but it can be read here . Phil's contact details are at the bottom of the link. As an academic of some distinction, I'd imagine he'd wish to be deterred from making factually inaccurate pronouncements of the kind which might compromise his credibility.

"2). Since it is impossible to have an infallible anything, would you propose that no one ever be convicted of anything because there might be the infinitesimal possibility of error."

No, I agree with you, and presumably all right-thinking people, that the burden of proof in criminal cases should continue to be "beyond a reasonable doubt." Where I differ is that I don't think that evidential burden is sufficient when it comes to executing a man (as it happens, legalised killing is anathema to me, but, hey, maybe I'm just the sensitive type). Some, no doubt, would take the view that executing one innocent (it may or may not have been Tookie, but you and I both know that innocents have been, and will, in all probability, continue to be, executed) is a satisfactory trade-off for executing a multitude of the guilty. I find little appeal in the pragmatic jurisprudence of "actuarial barbarism".

"By the way, do you believe O.J. Simpson is innocent?)"

No, not for a minute.

"3. No one pretending this man is innocent has given a plausible argument to show that something went wrong in the original trial. If you have facts which show otherwise, I'd love to see them."

I don't know if he's guilty or innocent, but, as I've already said, my view that he shouldn't have been executed is unconditional.

4). As for his "good works" I would love to see the numbers on just how many people have stopped committing crimes because of this man.

You might have a long wait: you can catalogue crimes, but the data on crimes that were never committed (and the reasons why they weren't) is, clearly, a little thinner on the ground!

"People in gangs don't tend to read books."

Your argumentation skills are finely tuned, Daniel, but we both know that is a facile generalisation: the proposition that all, or even most, gang members, and, perhaps more importantly, prospective gang members, are either illiterate or not predisposed to read (even gang-related) books is, at the very least, a contentious one. In this case, "I would love to see the numbers on that."

Anyway, Williams' books were primarily pitched at children, advocating non-violence and alternatives to gangs. In the circles that matter, a dire warning from a founder of the Crips gang is going to carry a hell of a lot more weight than a "Just Don't Do It" message from a rich, white Republican.

"And furthermore, I think, and I'm sure his victims agree, that it does matter whether or not he admits his guilt."

On this matter we're agreed: if he was guilty, it would have been right for him to have shown respect for his victims' families by admitting his guilt.

"And yes, regardless of the crass propaganda, he is guilty."

As I've said before, when it comes to executing people, "beyond a reasonable doubt" isn't enough for me. I'd want to squeeze the last scintilla of doubt until it surrendered, and even then...

Your assertion that "he is guilty" is certainly true insofar as he was found guilty. Neither you nor I were there (nor indeed were the judges, the jury, the police or the prosecutors). In the Anglo-American legal process, a criminal trial is merely a reconstruction of the truth established after mediating between adversarial alternative versions of the "truth." Whether the result is a "best fit" with the truth or not, and whether the adversarial process is the best method of reconstructing the "truth" is always open to debate.

Daniel said...

Let me address your points:

1). Your academic cannot even agree with Williams' own defense team. Look here: http://www.cm-p.com/pdf/executiveclemency_reply.pdf . This is the defenses' own reply for clemency. Even they will not make the ridiculous assertion that it was an all-white jury. They do have problems with calling one juror, William McLurkin, black (pps. 12-13), but they still contend he was Filipino. Plus there were Latinos and other Filipinos on the jury. That is hardly, "all white."

Besides the fact that it is completely irrelevant. I merely made that point to show your sources' inaccuracies. It is absurd to pick juries based on race. Are you telling me that it is impossible for an all-white jury to come to a fair conclusion? I myself am part German-Irish and part Mexican. If I were on trial should I expect a jury made up entirely of German-Irish-Mexicans?

2). You're second point I do consider a valid objection. I do support the death penalty but I don't see people who have a philosophical objection to it as necessarily silly. But let's stick to the issue at hand. The Governor of California is not the monarch. It is not up to him to overturn the law if he did not agree with the death penalty. He is the chief executive in the state of California and it is his job to execute the laws. If people do not support the death penalty then they have every right to vote for legislators who are opposed to it and to find lobbyists who will support their agenda.

Having said that, it was the governor's job to decide whether or not Tookie Williams merited clemency. Considering Williams' career and crimes, I think he made the right decision. As far as any redemption Williams went through, that is a matter of interpretation but I still contend that the least he could've done is apologize for the crimes he was convicted for.

3). I understand your position, my girlfriend has the same position. But I will respectfully disagree.

4). Touche. [Can't put the accent mark over the "e".] But I'll tell you this. Los Angeles County has not been significantly less violent since Tookie asked for a truce. Gangs are still being gangs. And it's still not fun to go to certain parts of LA for fear of being involved in gang warfare.

As far as children who might hear Tookie's message and take something positive from it, that's great. His execution will not change that.

eugene ionesco said...

Daniel,

We can masticate over the minutiae of the racial composition of the jury all we like, but the undisputed fact remains that the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike all 3 African-Americans from the jury and the alternate jury pool (2 and 1 respectively). These acts, prima facie, created an inference of racial discrimination. It may be "absurd to pick juries based on race", but the composition of a jury should reflect a fair and balanced cross-section of the community, which this jury patently did not.

No-one is suggesting that an all-white, or predominantly white, jury is incapable of reaching a fair and unbiased conclusion, but justice not only has to be done, it has to be seen to be done. It would be similarly inappropriate to install a jury composed exclusively of African-American gangbangers.

"The Governor of California is not the monarch."

We can be thankful for small mercies: the prospect of King Arnie is almost disturbing as the reality of President Bush.

"As far as children who might hear Tookie's message and take something positive from it, that's great. His execution will not change that."

Yeah, but it certainly diminishes his ability to instruct, influence, educate and promote positivity in the future.

"And it's still not fun to go to certain parts of LA for fear of being involved in gang warfare."

Which is why life imprisonment without prospect of parole would have been a preferable option for one of the few guys who might have been capable of making a difference, however incremental. If Williams could have dissuaded one person from the gang lifestyle in the future, saved even one kid from the vortex of drugs and violence then, surely, his execution was counter-productive?

Anyway, thanks for your perspective, Daniel. I'll check out your blog in due course.