Romans 13:4-5 For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience.
Tookie Williams lived on death row for nearly 26 years. His first victim, Albert Owens, was 26 years old when he was murdered execution style in 1979. I mention Owens by name because I think the comparison to his age and the speed of the justice system is significant. Albert Owens would have been 52 years old, but he didn’t make it. Williams also murdered a family of Taiwanese immigrants, The Yangs, who would all have reached retirement age by now. He didn’t just murder them he celebrated their deaths. According to reports, Williams, danced around his victims repeating racist remarks, laughing, and mocking them as they fought for their last breathes.
Tookie Williams was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize five times.
I’m no great fan of the death penalty. It should be used sparingly. I don’t celebrate the taking of any life. I want to tell myself that people can change. I couldn’t get through the day, some days, without my belief in grace and redemption. Some people claim that Tookie Williams changed from cold-blooded murdered to author of children’s books. Good, but this story is not about Tookie Williams. The story should be about Owens, and the Yang family, and the countless other victims who have been tortured and killed by Tookie’s disciples, the Crips gang.
According to many people who knew him in prison, Williams did not change. Sure, he wrote a few unpopular children’s books, but that’s not enough. He was often in fights, causing trouble, instructing gang members, and threatening guards. To some people, that does not matter. I can respect someone’s genuine belief that the death penalty is wrong, but don’t tell me he was a good guy. Don’t tell me he was a victim.
I saw a woman on television claiming that she was going to prove that Williams was innocent and that Governor Schwarzenegger was the real murderer. I don’t think so. Williams was convicted by a jury and sentenced by a court. His appeals failed then, and they failed again because no new reason to spare him was presented. In 26 years, no one rushed to his defense with new evidence. No one cared until there was a political point to be made.
It must be difficult for a governor, any governor, to enforce the law and proceed with a state execution. What does it feel like to know that a life will continue or end depending on your actions? That thought never crossed the mind of Tookie Williams. He pulled the trigger. He never apologized and went to his death unrepentant. He even refused spiritual guidance in his last moments.
It must be frightening to sit in a cell knowing that you are about to die. Tookie Williams had 26 years to ponder his life and his death. That’s 26 years longer than his victims were given. What would they have done with their lives?
We’ll never know.