What a waste

In a few hours from now (about 11 30 pm in New York), Stanley “Tookie” Williams will be put to death by lethal injection at San Quentin prison, his last-ditch efforts at a stay of execution from the courts or from California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger failing.
Williams is alleged to have murdered four people in the Los Angeles area over 20 years ago; he was also alleged to be a founding member of the notorious Crips gang. In prison, he has been a model citizen, among other things, writing children’s books aimed at dissuading youths from gang violence.
We loves our death penalty here in America; we recently executed our one thousandth prisoner since 1976; only China, Iran and Indonesia have executed more prisoners. I’m sure most Americans are just delighted to be in the company of those three great nations– the pinnacles of the kinds of values we hold dear. Of course, since 1976, we have also had over 600,000 homicides, proving the futility of a death penalty that doesn’t particularly deter crime in any way, though it is widely believed to be administered unfairly (largely because it is administered unfairly). The one good thing you could say about the death penalty (aside from its popularity, and that does count for something in a democracy… though universal health care and a decent minimum wage are damned popular, and you won’t see those anytime soon) is that it presumably saves states money, by ending a prisoner’s life before spending the cost of warehousing them for decades. But… counting the cost of the endless appeals, the reality is, the death penalty ends up costing more in many cases than warehousing the prisoner for life. Without, of course, the possible discovery of later innocence.
Schwarzenegger’s denial of clemency should have been expected; it reflects the same political cowardice that he showed in vetoing the gay marriage bill. Arnold needs some political support somewhere, so if acting like a hard-ass (and against the principles he intimated he stood for during his campaign) surprises some people, maybe it shouldn’t… after all, there’s an election next year, isn’t there?
Williams’ case presents a number of difficulties. Williams always maintained his own innocence; nothing surprising there. Because that will make it too easy, we’ll just have to play this out. In my view, a lifetime of incarceration in (an overcrowded) California prison is probably a nastier punishment than execution. But as a penological matter, it sends a message that there may not be much point in behaving well in prison: it won’t get you jack (to be fair, Williams’ situation is by no means run of the mill.) But… it sends a message.
it won’t bring Williams’ victims’ back, certainly. Perhaps it will make the victims’ families feel better, for a time. Or not. Only they can know for sure. But once again, when, in our name, the state engages in barbarity in the interest of either punishing or deterring barbarity, and does so in a way that is by all accounts, grossly unfair (and let’s just stick to Black men in Los Angeles; recall a fellow who brutally murdered two people around 11 years ago, but, unlike Williams, was in a position to hire a top-notch legal team and hence buy himself reasonable doubt, and is out playing golf somewhere, while Williams awaits death by lethal injection)… is that really what we want?
Trick question. I realize that this is the system that Americans do want. It just happens to have an… unattractive side from time to time.