EDITORIAL: That’s the way the Tookie crumbles

In 1981, Stanley “Tookie” Williams was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Williams, in addition to murdering four people in 1979, is the founder of the infamous Crips street gang, arguably one of the most ruthless organized crime cells in the nation’s history. He has exhausted his appeals, having gone as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected his appeal as did every other appellate court. Now he is slated to die by lethal injection on Dec. 13. But many are calling for clemency, begging California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to let Tookie live.

Why this outpouring of support for one of the most notorious criminals in America? Well, it appears Tookie has had a change of heart. While in prison, Williams began writing children’s books about the dangers of gang life and has become an anti-gang activist of sorts. So dramatic was his conversion, that Williams has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on numerous occasions, and a television movie starring Jamie Foxx, one of those calling for clemency on Williams’ behalf, was made.

The eclectic assortment of people who hope to have Williams’ sentence commuted cite his dramatic turnaround as evidence that Williams could better serve the world if he were allowed to remain alive, presumably so he could continue to write and work with young people to dissuade them from becoming involved with gangs. Critics of Williams, including the families of those he murdered 26 years ago, point out Williams has yet to claim responsibility for the crimes for which he was convicted, and no amount of good will can cancel out the damage for which Williams is directly and indirectly responsible.

So what is Schwarzenegger to do? The most important thing is to first and foremost examine closely the facts of the case and not bow to whatever public pressure the protesters are hoping to generate. The most recognizable supporters of Williams are not exactly what one might consider experts in legal or philosophical matters: rapper and former gangster Snoop Dogg, actor Jamie Foxx, washed-up television star Mike Farrell, demagogue preacher Jesse Jackson and rock-star wife Bianca Jagger are among the more vocal Williams supporters.

For Gov. Schwarzenegger to take their advice over the advice of experts would be the sort of absolute foolishness that could only happen in California.

The governor should also carefully consider the implications of whatever decisions he makes. If he grants clemency, would his actions be considered an encouragement for criminals to reform their lives? Or would commuting Williams’ sentence imply a lifetime of destruction is forgivable if one merely realizes what everyone else has known all along? If Schwarzenegger decides Williams should face his death sentence, will he be seen as a champion of justice, giving a convicted murderer his just desserts; or will he be accused of senselessly killing a man who has the potential to impact the world for the better?

The governor should realize whatever he determines will have a significant impact on the criminal justice system and how the general public views the American corrections paradigm. Whatever his decision, it should be made carefully.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.