Monday, January 09, 2006

More on the canonization of Tookie

I wouldn't point out this asinine comparison between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stanley "Tookie" Williams (found via Andrew Sullivan) except that the author, Renford Reese, is a professor at Cal Poly Pomona, the university where I'm getting my Master's degree (in a different subject, thankfully).

I like how he brings up the old "He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize" argument. Somehow I doubt the author gives George W. Bush the same deference, as he, too, is a Peace Prize nominee. Surely I don't need to point out that when MLK spent time in jail, it wasn't for gunning murdering four innocent people in robberies. And that when King worked for peace, civil rights, and nonviolence, that put him in danger, while Tookie spoke out against gangs (but never, of course, snitching on his fellow Crips) only when he had nothing to lose.

Come on, folks. You can't fight against the death penalty by claiming people on Death Row are saints. It just isn't true. And really, that's not an argument against capital punishment at all, just an argument for better enforcement of existing laws. The real argument is that we have to be better than the murderers. We don't need to kill people to maintain a safe, orderly, just society.


At Monday, January 9, 2006 at 7:05:00 PM PST, Blogger Locke said...

Here's my take on capital punishment, related to your post:

'Corporal punishment and Capital punishment'
I'm not strongly for or against capital punishment. But I want to take issue with one argument in the debate. Here is 'old faithful' that I hear often: 'The death penalty punishes a murder with another murder. So it's as bad as the crime itself.' The same style of argument works for corporal punishment: My son just hit my daughter. But if I punish him with a smack, my crime is as bad as my son's.

Now think closely and these arguments self-destruct. Should slave traders be locked up? Almost everyone will say yes - they deserve a jail sentence. But this is punishing those who lock people up by locking them up. It's the same hypocrisy. Yet most (including myself) think we should lock them up anyway.

How do we escape this dilemma? We must see the difference between those who may justly punish offenders and those who may not. Those with proper authority include our judiciary and our parents. They may execute acts of punishment which are criminal in any other context. They may lock people up. They may smack. In fact they must execute these punishments for the common good. No one else may do this, but they must.

So back to 'old faithful' above. We must all refute this argument, no matter how passionately we are against capital punishment. If we allow this argument, we will find that all discipline and all judicial sentencing are immoral and hypocritical.

At Monday, January 9, 2006 at 11:50:00 PM PST, Blogger Adam Villani said...

I see what you're saying, but there's never been a direct parallel between most crimes and their punishments. For some crimes, it's just nonsensical to think of a parallel; if you threaten somebody with a gun, the prison warden's not going to just threaten you with a gun and then let you go. In other cases where you could make a more meaningful parallel, the punishment is actually much more severe. If you kidnap somebody and hold them for a week, you can be pretty sure that the state's going to keep you locked up for more than seven days. In Tookie's case, he killed four people, and you can't very well kill the guy four times.

So the expectation of the punishment of a crime being that crime inflicted upon you has never really been the ideal, even in the "eye for an eye" days.

There are several problems with capital punishment, but from the fact that you might end up killing the wrong guy to the more religious side of putting a person to death with a mortal sin on their conscience, the essential problem with it is that it is irreversible. A wrongfully imprisoned man can be freed. A truly reformed man (which I never believed Tookie was) can be freed, though with certain crimes we might decide that even a reformed man must be kept in prison.

We can lock somebody up in a secure prison in a way that can keep society safe, can appropriately punish a person for a severe crime, and can even lock them away for long enough that might even learn to become penitent (hence, "penitentiary.") And we can do this without playing God and making a decision which cannot be undone.

At Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 12:58:00 AM PST, Blogger Locke said...

Sorry, I don't think you followed my argument. I take up the position of my opponent (the 'capital punishment is murder' proponent), and try to show that it doesn't make sense. Your response is arguing against me where I am speaking as my opponent. You then restate arguments against capital punishment, a position which I am not contending for anyway. Obviously I wasn't clear enough.

So here's a re-work of my middle paragraph:

Now think closely and these arguments self-destruct. Take the same logic and apply it to other situations:
If we must avoid punishments which are as bad as the crime (my opponent's position), then we must avoid locking up slave traders, since that would be to lock up those who lock people up. We must avoid smacking unruly children, since that would be to hit my son for hitting his sister.
Yet to most of us these conclusions are plainly silly. We know that slave-traders should be locked up, and many of us still believe that there is a place for smacking our children.

So how do we lock up slave traders and smack wayward children without becoming hypocrites? We must think differently. We must see the difference.....

At Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 9:27:00 AM PST, Blogger Adam Villani said...

Yes, and what I'm saying is that the point is not "we should avoid punishments that are as bad as the crimes," since I fully accept that in many cases the appropriate penalty is *worse* than the crime itself.

In my initial post, I did say that we have to be better than murderers. That was really a short version of my anti-capital punishment argument, because my larger point was that the Tookie defenders aren't presenting arguments against capital punishment at all, they're just trying to swindle us into thinking that Tookie is somehow on a par with Martin Luther King.

Capital punishment is irreversible, it injures the essential dignity of the person by not allowing a natural lifetime of reflection upon their crimes, it encourages bloodlust, and it is absolutely unnecessary in a civilized society to maintain order. The facts that it is applied inconsistently or against those who may be innocent are compounding factors, but are not in themselves primary arguments against it.


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