One Reporter's Opinion

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Could You Pull That Switch Yourself, Sir?

Sometimes it takes a bit of doing to get me to post around here. For the regulars, no surprises.

Um... I'm in a thoughtful mood tonight. Heartsick, really.

Governor Schwarzenegger, in denying Stanley "Tookie" Williams' clemency petition, had this to say in justifying his action:

"Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise? Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption."

Frankly, I don't believe Williams was looking for absolution from the Governor. Perhaps "The Terminator" is feeling his oats. Or perhaps he's too damned stupid to know the difference between a life sentence and a life sacrificed.

Now, I'm no religious scholar or anything, but it seems to me that apology and atonement and "complete and sincere" redemption (whatever that means to Gov. Jingle All The Way) becomes impossible after the actions with which he refuses to interfere. And as a self-described Catholic, maybe Gov. Kindergarten Cop missed out on the Evangelium Vitae of 1995, delivered by Pope John Paul II:

"This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence." Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfills the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.

"It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

"In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: 'If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.'"

No, I'm not saying that Tookie Williams was an angel in his life. He is certainly not without his faults. He may deserve to spend the rest of his natural life in prison. He may be factually guilty, and if so, I'm good with that.

I'm not the one to say who lives and who dies. Even as a non-believer, I fully acknowledge that this is out of my control, and neither would I empower anyone to make those decisions for me, and if I could, it would certainly not be the co-star of Twins. No, not even Danny DeVito should be given that sort of authority.

I know that Governor The Kid & I has seen a lot of death in his movies, I hope he realizes that those were stuntmen.

Steve Earle speaks often of his opposition to the death penalty, and in his song "Billy Austin," he wrote a pertinent question about our society's demand for revenge. As a man who has been condemned to die, his character asks his executioner...

Could you pull that switch yourself, sir? With a slow, steady hand?
Could you still tell yourself, sir, that you're better than I am?

I know I don't speak for everyone, and that this is highly personal for many, but this ongoing American travesty has got to end.


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