No mercy

The cold fact that Governor Schwarzenegger refused to grant clemency to Stanley Tookie Williams was predictable and consistent with the cruel spirit of the death penalty. The practice in this country to terminate the lives of convicted murderers is irrespective of any subsequent redemption or repentance. It is thus quite remarkable that the Governator’s decision (pdf) was based on the lack of an apology from Williams:

Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption. In this case, the one thing that would be the clearest indication of complete remorse and full redemption is the one thing Williams will not do.
Statement of Decision (pdf)

So had Tookie said “sorry,” and admitted guilt, Schwarzenegger would have let him live? Hardly.

In the death penalty the state executes its patriarchal control over its subjects. In other societies where the state has the right to take a citizen’s life, like China, Swaziland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Libya, Iran, or Bangladesh, the power of the state to control a citizen’s life is much less questioned than in the U.S. While most Americans prefer the state to stay out of their lifes, most also agree that the state has the right to end the life of those among them who commit capital crimes.

But I believe for the average American this issue is not one of the state executing control over their life, but one of the state projecting the image of the strict (but just) father figure. Many in the American middle class want the state to wield this power to punish the “bad children” with the wrath of the God of Abraham and Moses. This is why to the fundamentalist Christian Americans anti-abortion and pro-death-penalty positions are NOT inconsistent. It’s all about submitting to the authority of the “Father.” This fundamentalist Christian absolutism is a moral framework that is popular across American mainstream society.

As popular as this moral absolutism is, most Americans are really pragmatists and the steadily eroding support for the death penalty shows this. Key is to show that using the death penalty the state projects strength at our expense. The death penalty is a social and moral burden to this country. It has no value as a deterrent, provides no “closure” or “comfort” to the victims, it is prohibitively expensive and it drags this country down morally. The death penalty bestows an absolute power over life and death onto the government and the judiciary that these all-to-human and error-prone institutions should not have. It is the beginning of a slippery slope of the government using more and more force to enforce its laws and impress upon its citizens its determination to do so. And in the end, no matter how rigorous the judicial process, the state will end up killing someone innocent. And in America, we are the state.

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