While the 1000th execution since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1977 became a new landmark in American history, it’s really the number 1003, the one that has drawn the most attention. At 12:35 of the morning of Tuesday, Stanley “Tookie” Williams was put to death by lethal injection at California’s San Quentin State Prison. Williams had been in death row for twenty years. Williams was convicted in 1981 for the murder of four people while committing two separate robberies in 1979. In a 6-0 vote, the California Supreme Court denied his last petition to stay his execution on Monday. Last week the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), urged the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to grant Williams clemency, on the grounds that he was helping young African-American men stay out of gangs, since he had spent his two decades on death row at San Quentin Prison, as an anti-gang activist by writing children’s books on the dangers of gang life. The curtain finally came down on Williams, when Governor Schwarzenegger denied his clemency request also on Monday. In a press release in which he explains the grounds of his refusal, Governor Schwarzenegger stated: “there is nothing that compels me to nullify the jury’s decision of guilt and sentence and the many court decisions during the last 24 years upholding the jury’s decision with a grant of clemency.” I firmly agree.
The sole fact that Williams wrote children’s books while on death row has apparently blurred the reasoning of many. Supporters for Williams have failed to take into account to begin with, that Williams was the alleged co-founder of the Crips, one the biggest, most violent and most prolific gangs of modern criminal history. The Crips are credited with the introduction of crack cocaine, one of the most lethal drugs on the streets today. During the twenty years Williams stood on death row and while he was supposedly busy writing children’s books, he was involved in more than ten violent incidents. Williams also refused to admit his guilt despite the overwhelming evidence there was against him. I can’t help but wonder, what about the four victims and their families? How come their suffering for the senseless and vicious loss of their four loved ones is not the issue that is captivating everyone’s attention now? Have we lost our sense of compassion for the true victims of heinous crimes like the ones Williams scored under his belt? In times like this, my heart goes out for the grieving families of these victims.
I am amazed at the momentum death penalty issues have gained in both the U.S.A. and Puerto Rico, where crime rates have reached all time highs and your fellow average citizen is no longer your good neighbor. How can a society advocate for civility towards cold blooded killers, when it is unable to be civilized with the person who has not hurried enough when the stoplight turned green? How morally right is it to feed, shelter and educate psychopaths, among others, when their innocent victims are rotting, six feet under the ground? In my opinion, the advocacy in favor of the abolition of death penalty can only be categorized as the Dantesque misgivings of a nearsighted society. Sadly, we must admit, that we live in a society that fails to strengthen the confidence of the real victims of the convicted killers, which are growing old, (at the taxpayer’s expense) while on death row. We have become the type of society who has developed tolerance precisely for the cruel and intolerant.
I must admit that a country’s prerogative of applying the death penalty is a complicated affair. The government’s task is to try and balance out the constitutional rights of the convicted killer, without losing sight of the nature of his deeds. This is a task which I believe has not yet been successfully achieved. While ending the life of a convicted felon is not going to bring your loved one back, most of the victim’s families admit that this helps them ease their pain, since the most equitable justice available, is been served. Nonetheless, it takes years for the real victims to get some relief, since death row inmates can extinguish numerous appeals. In the meantime, the government is spending tons of money in trying to rehabilitate death row inmates when the fact of the matter is, that ruthless killers will never truly reform themselves. Our own legal system seems to believe this too, when the other only option it provides for the convicted killer of this sort, is life without parole. Isn’t this admitting, that we as a society are afraid to have that inmate back in the street, even though he has been rehabilitated?
The only true proportionate punishment for those who viciously take an innocent victim’s life, is to pay with that which they have taken. Only this can restore the balance of a self-respecting society. We should all be brave enough and admit it.
Julizzette Colon-Bilbraut is a third generation attorney admitted to practice in both local and federal courts for the Commowealth of Puerto Rico.