Public Forum


A new focus needed on the death penalty

Unless Gov. Schwarzenegger intervenes, later this month the state of California will execute Stanley “Tookie” Williams, a convicted murderer and co-founder of the notorious Crips street gang. Once he is dead, the world will be no better a place in which to live than it was before the execution, nothing will have been learned, and all that will have been accomplished is the continuation of a bloodthirsty American tradition.

There has been much talk, especially by celebrities and those who travel the nation from protest to protest, that Williams did not commit the four murders for which he was convicted and for which he is being executed. The overwhelming evidence says otherwise. There has also been much talk that Williams has long since separated himself from the Crips and has devoted his life to curbing gang violence and encouraging youth to find a different path. It has been disputed whether Williams actually has changed his ways or has decided to pretend to do so as a way to avoid execution.

All of this is irrelevant to me. I would prefer Williams admit his guilt, and then the debate could be not about whether a guilty man is going to die, but rather simply whether our government should be killing human beings or if it should be joining the rest of the civilized world and end such a barbaric practice.

The capital punishment prohibition movement is a weak one. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted earlier this year showed just 29 percent of Americans are opposed to the practice. Another six percent were unsure. Although the number of people who support Capital Punishment has gone down from 77 percent in 1996 to 65 percent today, I think it could sink even further if better leaders were chosen for the prohibition movement.

Probably the most famous man on death row is Mumia Abu-Jamal, who killed a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Abu-Jamal has thousands of followers throughout the world who demand not just that he be removed from death row, but that he be released from prison altogether.

The city of Paris recently named him an honorary citizen. Abu-Jamal is a darling of the entertainment industry, with Hollywood celebrities supporting him and music groups writing songs praising him. At any anti-death penalty rally, one can assume most of the talk will be about Abu-Jamal and his struggle. The only problem with all this is as Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote a few years ago, “Mumia Abu-Jamal is more guilty than O.J.”

Abu-Jamal was found next to the man he killed, Officer Daniel Faulkner, with the weapon. He also confessed to the crime later that night. (His followers have since claimed that confession was made up, despite several people hearing it at a hospital. Abu-Jamal himself has never said the words, “I am innocent.” He lets his followers do the talking.) Abu-Jamal then had a trial that turned into a circus in which he claimed the government was out to get him. After his conviction and sentence, a small group protested and then spread the word. Soon a movement began that any rational person would consider to be a cult.

Followers claim Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist; that is an invention. It has also been claimed that Abu-Jamal was an investigative journalist that Philadelphia officials feared was uncovering scandals. No evidence has ever come up to prove that. In fact, at the time of the murder, Abu-Jamal was barely working as a journalist, being forced to become a taxi cab driver to supplement his income.

But the Abu-Jamal movement lives on, keeping the Left fringe happy but accomplishing little. With most anti-death penalty rallies and organizations focusing on Abu-Jamal, mainstream Americans are alienated and stay away. And now there is the Tookie Williams movement making headlines, and it is doing as little to progress the cause for a prohibition.

I agree that the death penalty is unfairly used. Racial minorities are more likely to receive it, as are the poor. Those arguments have been made by the Williams’ supporters, and I side with them. But when they bring up ridiculous statements of his innocence, I lose interest, as does most of the country.

It is true that all great movements started out small. In the early 1800s, the idea of ending slavery in the South was absurd. The alcohol prohibition movement was restricted to a few religious fanatics in the latter half of the 19th century, but would become law in the early portion of the next one. So despite only a small percentage of this nation currently thinking capital punishment is wrong, I am confident with better leadership and a better focus, the tide of American opinion can be changed.

Jonathan Friedman

Assistant Editor