13 December 2005


Stanley "Tookie" Williams III
1953 - 2005
Not a martyr

He founded a deadly and ruthless street gang. He apologized for doing it. He was a committed and effective anti-gang activist. There are plausible reasons to think that he was innocent of the crime he was convicted of committing. He was certainly not an innocent man. He was loyal to his friends. Some of those friends were bad, bad men.

Judge not, lest ye be judged? But we live in a world in which we must exercise judgement; to refrain from judgement is itself a judgement. Yet the world conspires to baffle our judgement. What to make of Mr. Williams' life?

People called for clemency. People called for the most severe punishment. Personally, I felt sympathy with both arguments. I am baffled.

We cannot step into the same river twice. We cannot punish the same person who committed a crime, nor can we reward the same person who did a good deed. We are all the inheritors of the legacy of our younger selves. Yet only a fool would say that we should neither punish crimes nor reward good deeds.

There's a lot I don't know about Mr. Williams, and how we should respond to him. In a baffling world, I want to know what he would have made of the rest of his life. And in a baffling world, I don't want the State of California to have the power of life and death over its citizens. But I don't know much more than that.

Update: Daphne Gottleib commemorates the moment with a poem that will take your breath away.


Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed.

Thank you.