Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had a chance to re-define himself, his family’s legacy and the discussion on America’s most cruel and questionable practice—capital punishment. A practice that disproportionately impacts African American communities nationwide, all eyes were on California—and all attention was on Schwarzenegger, as he and he alone determined Stanley “Tookie” Williams’ fate. As much as millions held out hope that Arnold was somehow, different, in his make-up and demeanor that would, somehow, produce some sort of sentiment in favor of clemency, Schwarzenegger proved that he was every bit as cold and calculating as he plays in his movies. In the end, “Robo-Gov” did exactly as his ideologue creators programmed him to do, and returning to the politics of his conservative base, Arnold denied clemency. With no court willing to intervene on the part of mercy, Stanley “Tookie” Williams was executed at 12:35 a.m. of December 13th. Arnold threw rhetorical relativist banter—political and ideological justification—for this highly questionable practice in the face of those who know the death penalty is inhumane.
From December 8th, when Schwarzenegger heard Williams’ clemency petition until he released his statement mid-day December 12th, the conservative “spin-machine” went into full effect, as newspapers and electronic media sought to deconstruct any rationalization for clemency in the court of public opinion. In those five days, redemption was redefined in ways that left no basis for accepting the notion that Tookie Williams could have possibly changed in the last 20 years of his life. Schwarzenegger’s Republican base advanced the position that there could be no redemption without repentance, and no clemency without an apology and atonement for the killings Williams was convicted of. This position offered Williams two options; apologize for murders he maintained to his dying day that he did not commit, or die maintaining his innocence. Williams chose to die maintaining his innocence, and Schwarzenegger chose to throw his base’s rhetoric in the face of a pained community—itself conflicted over Tookie’s early legacy, that trail of blood called the Crips. While not of his own hands, the state was prepared to hold Williams up as a symbol that not even his black supporters could refute—the decades of death and destruction that this part of Williams’ life had manufactured. No amount of atonement and apology mattered for what Williams did acknowledge he had a hand in. No amount of consideration was given to repentance of his gang past and the good he tried to do in correcting the past. The only thing that mattered in the end, was that Tookie “didn’t apologize to the family” for the murders in which he was convicted. Therein Schwarzenegger questioned whether the sincerity of Williams redemption was “complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise,” and concluded death was merited based on the following notion; “Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there is can be no redemption.” In death, Williams now represents another failed test on the part of this country to stand by what is says is possible, redemption and clemency, as a reward for a changed life. Clemency, as redemptive reward, is a fallacy in America. We now know that it is a act of political meandering—a moving target that can never be hit, like slavery, like “Separate But Equal,” is a fabrication to sooth America’s pretense of a faith-based democracy, but in reality, ignores justice and compassion as redeeming values in our society. America continued its legacy of failing to live up to the moral standards it expects the world to live up to. “Base is your face” was simply another way of Arnold saying that the “party line” had the last word in the Williams execution. But even in death, Williams has now created the definitions of another movement, and another problem for conservative relativists; We now know what the meaning of redemption is.
If we use the definition Schwarzenegger’s base, we can now assume that since there has never been an apology for slavery, or segregation, that America has not been redeemed for its sins of the past, and the thousands of murders—lives lost—from conflict of this nation’s race caste. Should America pay with its life, or even pay—period? The death of Stanley “Tookie” Williams just redefined the discussion on how can America ever redeem itself on the question of slave reparations. A giant leap??? I don’t think so. . . Redemption is redemption, and we’ll just use the definition that Arnold’s base threw up in our face to kill (another) innocent man. Just as America made Tookie Williams pay, let’s call for America to redeem itself, and pay up…right now. Let’s start with an apology. Without an apology, there can be no redemption, right?? We’ll see now. . .
God bless the soul of Stanley Tookie Williams. May his work continue to inspire peace and eradicate gang violence. Join the movement to abolish the death penalty in the United States.
- Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America (Kabili Press, 2005). He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com
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