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Must Tookie Be Executed?
Article on the upcoming execution of Tookie Williams, written by Political Prisoner Kalima Aswad.
Must Tookie Be Executed?
By Kalima Aswad
(A Political Prisoner in California)
October 15, 2005
The state of California, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, says, "Yes, the public is better off by killing Tookie Williams." If it has not already done so, California will set an execution date for Tookie Williams in a few days.
I never met Tookie and haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of the several books he has written, but as an Ex-death row prisoner myself, I feel a need to speak in his behalf. I got off death row 33 years ago and am still in prison. I, along with others who got off death row in 1972, but remain incarcerated, are living proof that public protection is not justified by state imposed murder.
Even if he is guilty, must Tookie die? His case is unique because he has been convicted of murder and he is also credited with saving many from following the path of the crime violence that marked his early life. It is generally accepted that if one kills a person it is as if he killed the whole people. On the other hand, if one saves a life, it is as if he saved the life of the whole people.
One of the things that gives justification to government’s existence is that it protect the people, but not in any way it sees fit. It also has the responsibility of catering to the real needs of its citizens.
The situation in the black communities in California and all across this land is desperate. People are living in a state of fear as gangs run rampant in seas of alcohol, crime, drugs, and violence.
For a long time, people of these communities have been crying out for protection – help from anybody: police (who often turn out to be a bigger source of fear than the gangs they are asked to control), preachers, doctors, lawyers – anybody who can help turn the situation around.
What I’m saying is not difficult to confirm. Turn on any news telecast on any given day and the painful message of another shooting death blares out a mother’s agony at her child being blown away in another senseless act of violence.
"Tookie the Terrible, " from death row, the one held largely responsible for the gang violence, writes from his prison cell on San Quentin’s death row, pleading for young people to turn away from the lifestyles that lead to crime, drugs, and violence, and to turn to education and productive lives.
So forceful have been his efforts that he was nominated more than once for the Nobel Peace Prize, the most prestigious award in the world today. Powerful people in the U.S. opposed the Nobel nominations. "It would be wrong to reward this guy. He is criminal!" they cried.
That is an interesting argument because this nation embarked upon a program of slavery; there was genocide against Native Americans; and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, among other things, that depict an ugly part of its history. It insists that people learn to accept those facts and to "look at what America stands for today."
If it’s right for people to judge America by what it stands for today, isn’t it right for Tookie to be judged the same way? Why is there such an obsession with the notion that people in Tookie’s situation have no redeemable qualities? Richard Nixon and G. Gordon Liddy, etc. of the Watergate era could do it and so could Alabama’s governor George Wallace, but for a nobody like Tookie, "he can’t contribute anything to society." That’s why they execute people, they say.
I think there are at least two other reasons California is in such a hurry to execute Tookie. One, the state has failed miserably in its own method of dealing with the gang/violence problems and it needs to make an example out of someone to cover up its own ineptness. The second reason is that because he has the ability to reach out and help young people change their lives around it makes the state’s ineptness even more apparent.
Former governor and so-called liberal, Jerry Brown wants to run for the State Attorney General’s Office. It would be interesting to see what he has to say on the issue of whether under the circumstances of Tookie turning his life around the way he did, executing him would be more beneficial to the people of California and the nation than commuting his sentence to life in prison.