Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Bad Life and Premature Death of Stanley Tookie Williams

I believe that on February 28, 1979, Stanley Tookie Williams
shot a young man named Albert Owens to death inside a
southern California 7-11 store. I don’t doubt that he boasted
about this deed in the days afterward and it is likely that he
did, in fact, “laugh hysterically” when he recalled his dying
victim’s last moments. I also believe that, less than two
weeks later, Stanley Tookie Williams shotgunned to death
Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang, and Ye Chen Lin at the hotel
they owned. I have no trouble at all accepting the position
that Stanley Tookie Williams murdered four innocent, hard-
working people so that he could steal less than $250 from
them. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if this cold-
blooded, dim-witted killer never felt a moment’s remorse
for any of the many vicious and inhuman things he did. Nor
would I be surprised if his “redemption” was contrived for
his own aggrandizement rather than a genuine change of

I don’t think Stanley Tookie Williams was a decent human
being. I don’t think that he was an innocent man caught
in a racist frame-up. I don’t think he should have won
the Nobel Prize. I don’t think his children’s books in any
way mitigate the pain he caused.

But all the same, I think that the state of California was
wrong to kill him. I do not believe in the death penalty.
One of my qualms with it is that it turns monstrous people
into martyrs. Stanley Tookie Williams did not deserve the
drama that attended his final days, he deserved to fade into
old age and pass into death in a cell somewhere, forgotten
by everyone. We elevate worthless men when we deem
their cruelty spectacular enough to merit these great demon-
strations of the state’s power. A bloodthirsty wretch is a
bloodthirsty wretch, after all, and it’s probably better to
keep them in cages than to shuffle them through a grand
pageant that solves nothing, that only plays on the sym-
pathies of the softhearted and stokes, yet never satisfies,
the lust for vengeance in others.

It always surprises me that those others–many of whom
don’t trust that the government is competent enough to
plow the snow or carry the mail correctly–have faith that
the justice system can decide who deserves to die. Who
to kill and who to let live is a question that only sociopaths
like Tookie Williams ask themselves, judges and juries
should hold themselves to a higher standard. We want
our courtrooms and execution chambers to be where we
exorcize evil from our society, but we’re not doing this,
we’re just muddling our way through a shameful and fu-
tile ceremony. We look weak when we kill these paltry
villains, we make it seem like we’re at their mercy.

Understand that I’m not insensitive to the appeal of re-
venge. If someone I loved was hurt by someone like
Stanley Tookie Williams, I would want my Stanley Tookie
Williams to die. I would want to do it myself and I would
want to make it as painful as possible. This is human
nature, I think. What has to be recognized, however, is
that it not the most admirable part of it. My rage may
be understandable and it may even be just, but the state
should remain a colder thing. Passions of this sort are
dangerous when they’re enshrined in law.

So Stanley Tookie Williams is dead and nothing is better.
Stanley Tookie Williams is gone and the world is just as
cruel as it was before. This is America, of course. Here
we love our weapons, even when we truly don’t need
them. One day I hope we will realize that our security
blankets harm us more than the cold night ever could.