Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Memo to Anti-Death Penalty activists

Now that the dust in the aftermath of the execution of Tookie Williams has somewhat settled, it is time to follow my personal tradition to comment on a current event when it is not so current any more.

This is my unsolicited advice to the anti-death movement.

For a long time, I used to be a capital punishment advocate. But along with a myriad of other issues which I used to have bedrock solid positions on, this is now back on the table for reconsideration as I now find myself sitting on the fence.

So if you are an anti-death penalty advocate, you may as well listen to my take since I am now more sympathetic and openminded to what you have to say than ever before.

Nothing is more counter-productive for the anti-death penalty cause than focusing on individual death penalty cases and defending individuals about to be put to death. As noble as it may be on the humane level, the public's attention will inevitably turn to the unspeakable savagery of the crime which will weigh heavily against and dwarf the death row inmate's rehabilitation and remorse.

In Stanley Williams' case, various groups called for clemency inspired by his work to discourage youth from the gang life. But ultimately it was weighed against his murderous crime which the public's attention turned to in the end and the groundswell of support which his friends claimed never materialized.

As long as the spotlight is on individual cases, the pro-death penalty side will always enjoy the upper hand. The anti-death penalty side should shift focus from individual cases to the "big picture" of whether it is morally defensible for us as a society to condemn a person to death.


At December 28, 2005 4:40 PM, Blogger Brotha Buck said...

I think one has to look at each individual case, because looking at the big picture allows for too many details to fall through the cracks. Why would we want our tax money to support some slimeball killer for a zigabillion years?

At December 28, 2005 4:45 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

My point, exactly. The anti side keeps losing precisely because they play right into the hands of the pro side by focusing on individual cases.

At December 28, 2005 6:14 PM, Blogger Max said...

We have no death penalty in Canada.

If I lived a little farther south, I think I would be opposed to the death penalty. What to do about it certainly poses an interesting dilemma.
I agree with Buck. It's the details that are important. Can't generalize when it comes to something as signifigant as taking human life.
However, David, you are also correct. By generalizing and removing faces and individual crimes from the public eye, the best opportunity for change will be gained.

I suppose it looks like a stalemate?

At December 28, 2005 7:31 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

By generalizing and removing faces and individual crimes from the public eye, the best opportunity for change will be gained.

Yes, Max. And since I have not switched over to the anti-death penalty side quite yet, I am not about to come up with the mechanics of how to go about doing that.

It is just that the anti-death penalty side keeps focusing on individual cases and keeps getting their collective butt kicked. I am just saying to re-evaluate their strategy.

At December 28, 2005 8:40 PM, Blogger Just Rannin' Around said...

From the state which Ted Bundy called home, I am definitely pro-death penalty. I see the logic in your thinking concerning not looking at cases individually, but the death penalty as a whole in order to stand a fighting chance with ending the death penality. However, if you don't look at the cases individually you are doing a huge dis-service to the victims and the communities where these people have caused so much pain. I will also have to agree with Brotha Buck on the tax thing also.

At December 29, 2005 10:30 PM, Blogger Gary Means said...

Several years ago, a jazz musician named Red Kelly, ran for President of the United States of America. He was the candidate of the Owl Party. I think the Owl party and its platform were dreamed up at Red's nightclub (south of Seattle)late one night, after many adult beverages had been consumed by Red and his cronies.

He advocated legalizing drugs and prostitution, but taxing them heavily to solve the economic malaise of that era. But more to the point, he also wanted a gallows on every street corner to solve the crime problem and, at the same time, to reduce overcrowding in prisons. (He also felt there would be some small entertainment value for certain segments of our society.)

He also suggested that we increase the number of crimes which would result in execution. I think it covered most things except jaywalking.

This was during the "energy crisis" of the 1970s. After careful study, Red determined that much of our precious fuel was being lost to oil spills. His solution was to hire Irish tinkers to fix the tankers.

For some reason he did not qualify for the ballot. And I really wish I still had his campaign brochure. It was all written with his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek.

At December 30, 2005 12:46 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

With all due respect David, I think you read the movement wrong. Campaigns to save one person from capital punishment are not strategy. They are campaigns to save one life.

We fight for exceptions for anything - age, IQ, good deeds, whatever it takes. If there was an exception for redheads or freckles, I'd take it, because that's at least another life saved.

For a long time, I was a capital punishment advocate.

I'm curious how you squared that with your Christianity.

Why would we want our tax money to support some slimeball killer for a zigabillion years?

How horrible that anyone thinks of a human life in terms of tax money. So sad.

At December 30, 2005 12:50 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

However, if you don't look at the cases individually you are doing a huge dis-service to the victims and the communities where these people have caused so much pain.

This makes zero sense. I've been a victim of violent crime. I've loved people who were murdered. Murdering the criminal doesn't do a friggin thing for the communities. It solves nothing, assauges no grief, gives no one closure. It is only revenge.

Reading so-called Christians talk this way reminds me that religious zealots are usually just hypocrites.

At December 30, 2005 2:16 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

Sorry to be snotty. I'm passionately opposed to the death penalty, and I spoke from emotion, where I should have been more restrained.

I stand by my statements, but I should have been nicer about it. (And I only showed up because David invited me!)

I do agree with David that harping on the good works someone has done as a reason their life should be spared - as a strategy - is limiting and ineffective.

I think it comes from society's emphasis on "remorse". People are expected to show remorse for their crimes. We always hear about harsh sentencing because the person "showed no remorse".

But not everyone can show their feelings outwardly, especially people who may have been conditioned since birth to hide "soft" feelings. Many people cannot express feelings verbally - they simply don't have the ability to. And, on the other side of the coin, a good actor can show remorse but truly feel none.

The display of remorse is a sham, and should have no place in a rational justice system. Yet so many people continue to emphasize it.

I do think this is where the emphasis on the good works comes from. "See? Tookie is remorseful! He's dedicated his life to good works!" And David is right, that begs the question, what was he doing before...?

Every human being is more than the worst thing he or she has done. I don't trust the government to get my tax bill right. Why should I trust them with decisions over a human's life?

At January 01, 2006 11:27 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

As I said in our email correspondence, Laura, you raise some good points about saving one life at a time. I think it is consistent with the overall philosophy of the anti-death penalty movement as long as they do it out of principle.

And I think we are in agreement with the problems with Tookie William's supporters.

At January 09, 2006 8:27 AM, Blogger Granny said...

As a firm opponent of capital punishment since the days of Caryl Chessman in California (who? - try google), I hear you. When I hear of an especially horrid case, my first reaction as a human being is "how high can we hang him/her".

I must remember that I believe in a principle across the board. A comments box is not the place to go into all my reasons but I will say that it is sometimes difficult to put principles above vengeance.

Meantime, the people who champion one case at a time are doing what they do best. There may be room for both.

And before someone says "but what if it happened in your family, it did".

At January 12, 2006 10:36 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Green said...

I have mixed feelings about the death penalty. Sometimes I feel like it's the only choice we have--some people seem to be beyond redemption. On the other hand, it's too easy for some people. I don't know that it helps. Sometimes the people who commit the most heinous crimes aren't afraid of death.

Still, I wonder what it says about us as an "advanced" society that we still practice the death penalty? I am sure all you Canadians are sick of our criminals running up there to escape getting exectued, too.

At January 13, 2006 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an individual with over 30 years in law enforcement and the criminal justice syste, I am not 100% in favor of either side on this issue but you make a valid point in focusing on single cases.
I would like to add a comment pertaining to the issue of reform which was brought up in the Tookie Williams case.
Yes he did some things like discourging young people from joining gangs, yes he was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize(which by the way anyone can be nominated by just about anyone else, however, at no time did I ever hear about him 1. admitting his guilt, 2, co-operating with the courts and cops to provide information about gang operations, he did not name names of leaders in the gangs, did not provide information on how guns are obtained for the gangs and where they come from to name a few things that would have been natural for one who was "reformed".
His guilt was never in question only his being "reformed". How reformed was he?
Keep the issue of the death penality going but stay away from individual cases.
Steve B.


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