"Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them -- and then, the opportunity to choose." ~ C. Wright Mills
Last week, I wrote a column in which I implored the State of California not to execute convicted murderer and Crips co-founder Stan 'Tookie' Williams. I've been getting some pretty interesting responses to that column. Well, maybe 'interesting' isn't the right word. Most of the responses have been pretty standard. Few have been thought-provoking. But I guess it's just the overriding sentiment'amongst my critics anyway'that I find interesting. A lot of people seem to think that, by being anti-death penalty, I inherently support convicted murderers. That's a tremendous leap in logic. The point of the column was that I'm against killing people. That being the case, how could I possibly justify Tookie Williams killing four of them? That doesn't make sense. I'm just saying he's the one who's about to be killed here, and I don't condone it. The victims are already dead; if they were still alive and about to be murdered, I wouldn't condone that, either. Somehow, some folks don't believe this. Ordinarily, I'd say they're just reading what they want to read, but it's more than that. Not only are they reading what they want to read, but they're insisting I support Tookie's actions whether I admit it or not. You can't really argue with these people. Whatever you say, they still won't believe you. That's what I find intriguing about some of the emails I've been getting. They're not really responses to my article; they're responses to preexisting opinions on the capital punishment debate. For instance, a number of people have told me that because I don't support executing Tookie, I must not 'care' about the victims and their families. Several of these responses went on to describe the grizzly murders for which he was convicted, as if to guilt me into changing my stance on the death penalty. If I 'cared,' people told me, I would see that failing to execute Tookie is 'another bullet' through his victims' families' hearts. Do you want to know the honest truth here? You're right. I don't care about the victims. I don't care about their families. But I don't care about Tookie, either. I don't care about any of these people. I care about my wife. I care about my family. I care about my friends. I care about my cat. But I don't 'care' about anyone in this Save Tookie drama. I've never met them. They frankly mean nothing to me. In fact, the only people I even mildly 'care' about are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Foxx, and Snoop Dogg. That's because I've developed some sort of connection to them after watching them on TV for so many years. But even then, it's a stretch to say that I 'care' about them. I'm mostly just interested in how they're involved. That said, if the point is that I value Tookie's life over the lives of his victims, nothing could be further from the truth. I was hesitant to write this follow-up column because I didn't want it to come off as defensive. I decided to take my chances with that, though, because in spite of some of the self-righteous responses I've been getting, I don't really have anything to defend. I just want to reiterate my original point because it amazes me how many people missed it or simply chose to skip it over the first time around. I'm trying to look at this situation from a universal perspective, which is something some people are either unwilling or unable to do. If the reason we're upset about the murders is that human lives have value, then it only stands to reason that every human life has value. And if every human life has value, then executing Tookie is no more justified than ruthlessly murdering four innocent people'even if those people didn't deserve to be killed and Tookie quite obviously does. On the other hand, if every human life doesn't have value, which is what support for the death penalty indirectly indicates, then why get so worked up about those murders in the first place? Tookie thought his victims were worth murdering, and you think Tookie is worth murdering. Aren't we're really just looking at a difference in opinion here? The way I see it, either every human life is worth something or no human life is worth anything. I can live with whichever consensus opinion we reach; I'd just like us to reach it already. To say that I support Tookie Williams is kind of silly (this is where the part about not wanting to sound defensive comes in). If I supported him, I'd be talking up a storm about how he was framed. You'll notice I haven't done that. I wasn't privy to the things the jury was privy to 25 years ago. I'm not going to make up my mind on the validity of his imprisonment based on reviewing a few selected materials from the case. If the jury convicted him, and if his conviction was upheld by the courts, then I have no problem with it. I will assume he was truly responsible for those murders, and I will support keeping him behind bars till the day that he dies. I don't want a brutal murderer walking the streets anymore than anyone else does. I agree he deserves to be punished for killing people. I'm just not sure we ought to be punishing him the same way he punished his victims. I don't see how that makes me a Tookie Williams supporter. It just makes me someone who's trying like hell to be humane. The reason I'm saying all this instead of just letting it go is because I think people need to understand how I've arrived at my anti-death penalty conclusion. A lot of readers wrote to me and asked how I would like it if it was one of my family members that Tookie had killed. The answer to that is entirely obvious: I wouldn't like it at all. And if you want to know what I would do in that situation, the answer is: I don't know. Would I support killing him as retribution? Probably. Would that make it right? Probably not. Let's take this a step further. What would I have done if I had been there the night Tookie committed those murders? Would I have tried to subdue him? If I didn't chicken out, of course I would. And while I'd like to believe I'd show him as much mercy as possible, I doubt I would do that. If I had a chance to subdue him, I would probably subdue him and then crack his skull open with my Size 11 Timberland boot. I'm not a very reasonable person when I'm angry. But in a roundabout way, that's my overall point. On a practical level, the death penalty makes perfect sense to me. I very much want to believe that killing someone who killed someone else is the answer. Really, I do. Because that sort of punishment frees me up from having to weigh the other issues involved here'such as the costs of keeping a convicted murderer alive in prison, or what to do about stopping them from killing again. So I don't blame people for thinking the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for a murderer. Instinctually speaking, I agree that it feels right. I'm just not sure that's the right way to feel when I take a step back and look at the situation. It would be one thing if you killed Stan Williams while trying to stop those murders. But that's not what you're trying to do now. You've got him locked up in a prison cell. At this point, killing him is essentially' well, overkill. You're basically doing it out of spite. The point is, our backs aren't against a wall here. We've got Tookie Williams right where we want him: In jail. Treating an inhumane person humanely doesn't make sense on a situational level. It just doesn't. In fact, the very idea of giving a murderer due process doesn't make sense situationally, either. Nor does the idea of giving due process to a suspected terrorist. But a lot of things don't make sense situationally (which is probably why I never pass up unhealthy food). Sticking with the biblical theme I raised in last week's article, you're supposed to treat others how you'd like to be treated. That's not always easy to do. And in real life I don't always do it. I can be a terrible person sometimes. But regardless of how well I follow it, I still believe 'do unto others...' is a pretty good rule. I look at it like this: If I were convicted of murder (knock on wood), I'd like to believe I'd take my punishment like a man. However, I know that I wouldn't'guilty or not. I would cry like a little baby and pray 69 times a day for the state not to execute me. So as much as it may seem counterintuitive'or even counterproductive'for me to extend Tookie Williams that same courtesy, when I sit down and think about it, I feel like I have to. That doesn't mean I like it, and it certainly doesn't mean a convicted murderer deserves humane treatment. It just means that if I expect to get anything good out of this world, I realize I can't in good conscience give him anything less.