Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Apropos Klipper's Most Recent...

Last night, while driving back from The Dullest Place in Maryland, my engineering manager asked me what I thought of the then-impending "Tookie" Williams execution. I thought it was a weird thing to bring up since he's a fairly right-wing kinda guy who also is professional enough not to talk politics at work. He also knows that I'm a fairly left-wing kinda guy who also is professional enough not to talk politics at work unless someone provokes me. I asked him why he wanted to know my opinion, and he said, "Well, you're from California, for one thing. I guess I just don't understand why all these people are out there supporting him. I mean, he killed 4 people." I took this, despite the insult of being called "from California", as him giving me an opportunity to represent The Left in a polite and reasonable way. I figured I may as well give it my best shot because I was going to be stuck in the car with him for at least an hour.

I responded that I personally didn't know the facts of the case well enough to say with any certainty who Williams did or didn't kill. Nor did I know anything about his life once he got into prison except that he'd become some sort of "anti-gang activist", and I had no idea about who was or wasn't supporting him - although I suspected Susan Sarandon and Tim Roberts where among the "supporters". I then explained to him that there are plenty of people who, as a matter of principle, oppose the death penalty. I count myself as one of those people. I went on to say that lots of those people think the best way to get out the message is to make a visible show of protest when the case has high media visibility. He responded that he could understand that, but he felt people like Jesse Jackson were somehow hurting the cause by using it as an opportunity for self-advertisement. I took a deep breath and said, "Yes, some people are media-hungry and self-obsessed, but that doesn't change the principle." He responded saying, "Ok, but, you know, some of these people, they seem like they're really supporting Williams, I mean, like, are trying to say he's some kind of good guy." I took another deep breath. Then I said, "Well, yes, there are probably people who really do believe he is innocent. And there are other people who probably honestly believe that he is a changed man. But again, that doesn't change the principle." He finally relented and asked me how I could be against the death penalty. I went down my usual list of reasons: it's not an effective deterrent, it's only about retribution and I don't think retribution actually helps anything, state-sanctioned murder is still murder, etc. I asked him how he could be for it. This is when things got really weird.

He said that he doesn't believe in the death-penalty in theory, and that it did, in some ways, contradict his Christian faith. However he also thinks that if someone were to harm his wife or his child, he would want to kill that person. He didn't think it was fair to insist society follow rules that he couldn't follow. Then the clincher: "Wouldn't you feel the same way if someone did something to jaynieinbmore?" I don't know how these words fell out of my mouth, but fall they did: "Well, if that happened then I would hope there is a God and pray that God would grant me the grace to forgive. If that didn't happen, well, I'd probably end up a murderer too." He looked about as shocked as I felt. We drove on for a few minutes after which he said, "Well, you know, you're right. I guess if we're supposed to have faith..." I'm hoping it sticks.
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