One point I especially appreciate about his analysis is the implied question whether redemption is only backward-looking or whether it is also forward-looking: Are we redeemed only from what has come before or are we also redeemed for.
Here is the column:
Redemption on trial in California
by David Batstone
One man, Stanley "Tookie" Williams, faces execution Tuesday, Dec. 13, at San Quentin State Prison in California. With him our belief in human redemption also sits on the gallows, pending a decision in the clemency hearing conducted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Williams, a founder of the notorious Crips gang, is charged with the murder of four eople in the Los Angeles area in 1979. At the time of the trial, he proclaimed his innocence, a position he maintains today. A jury convicted him wholly on circumstantial evidence; in other words, no eyewitnesses or incontrovertible material evidence linked him to the murders, according to attorney Verna Wefald’s appeal.
In one of the robberies that led to a murder, an accomplice was given clemency for
pointing his finger at Williams for the murder. Beyond the self-interest involved, the accomplice's reputation as a truth-teller was less than stellar. The prosecution produced a shell casing tied to the murder weapon found at the motel where Williams was staying. But the science that matched the casing to the weapon was speculative and its results have not been revisited in the intervening years, the Los Angeles Times reported.
I revisit the facts of the case because Schwarzenegger's decision to grant Williams clemency will depend more on the possibility of his innocence - or at least the uncertainty of his guilt - than it will turn on the contribution that Williams has made to society over the last two decades.That's tragic, because Williams has become a major figure in the gang peace movement. He has co-authored 10 books from Death Row.
The message is clear: Violence is never a solution. He urges young gang kids to get out before it destroys them and the lives of their family members. That's a powerful message from one of the founders of the Crips.Williams first made a public plea to hundreds of gang members who gathered at a Los Angeles hotel in 1993 for a summit called Hands Across Watts. He did not hide his early role in the Crips, but on a prerecorded videotape filmed for the summit told the young gang members that he lamented his history. Recounting this first public event to the San Francisco Chronicle, Williams said, "I told them I never thought I could change my life, that I thought I would be a Crip forever. But I developed common sense, wisdom and nowledge. I changed."
Williams has gone on to build on this witness. In his 1998 prison autobiography Life in Prison, he directed young people to seek an alternative life beyond violence. Prison, he stressed, was no place to spend a life. Two years later he launched the Internet Project for Street Peace. His memoir, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, and the movie, Redemption, came out in 2004.Williams has a bevy of supporters calling for his
clemency. They argue that he has changed thousands of young people's lives, and if allowed to live will continue to be a force for good. His street credibility with gang kids is high, so he can reach them in a way that a teacher or social
In the eyes of the criminal justice system, a redeemed criminal is simply another criminal. I recall my first visit to a federal prison back in seminary when starting a prison chaplain residency. The warden of the prison came to the orientation I shared with other interns. His message was clear to us: "I want you to remember that the prison system today is not about reforming criminals. We are here to punish them."Redemption, in other words, has no place in our justice system. We do not offer a path for conversion. Once marked for condemnation, an offender's destiny is fixed.Elsewhere in the world, four Christian Peacemaker Teams members are marked for execution by a radical terrorist group in Iraq. The circumstances are dramatically different, so I hesitate to make the connection. We are appalled by the blind ideology that drives the terrorists and leads them to cheapen the value of human life. In this ideology, the individual is a tool for political expediency.Don't we want to offer our citizens more in a democracy?
From 12/7/05 SojournersMail.
Permission to reprint is inferred from the invitation, which appeared at the end of the column, to share the article with friends.
Think on it.