12.13.2005 | No Christmas for Tookie

I don't usually have sympathy for gang co-founders, but Mr. Williams has dedicated his life to anti-gang activism, writing a number of books denouncing his former ways. Critics complain that he never apologized for the crimes he was convicted of, but I ask how it is possible to apologize for a crime you say you never committed. Some have said that admitting to the crime would have saved his life, but I wonder what that says about our justice system. Does a person deserve to die for maintaining his innocence?

I think Williams' attempts to make amends through his anti-gang activism were enough to grant the mercy of clemency – and even then only life without parole. Williams, now an old man, could have lived the rest of his days in confinement and continued his activism against gang violence.

I think our society has moved too far from a corrections and punishment mentaility toward a revenge mentality when it comes to the death penalty. In the Bible, Jesus saved the life of the adulterer, saying "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Granted, more of us have struggled with sexual sin than committing the high crime of murder, but I think Jesus' mercy and forgiveness are aspects sorely missing from our justice system today.

This is not to say that we should let criminals out on the streets. Crimes, like sins, have their consequences, and people have to live with them. But the key word is live: death provides an escape for some people while prematurely cutting off a chance of reform for others. In this case, I think we lost a powerful voice against gang violence. And all this after the 1,000th execution in the United States since the death penalty was resumed in 1977, while questions are surrounding the exoneration of many death row inmates after review of DNA evidence. A message to think about this Christmas, what is supposed to be a time of peace and reconciliation.

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