I read of Schwarzenegger's decision to reject Stanley "Tookie" Williams' clemency appeal this evening just before I left for work, and before I listened to Amy Goodman's conversation with Barbara Becnel and the DN interview with Williams on the way home. I felt sicker and sicker as the train moved along. According to the LA Times the governor's rejection of clemency was personally and politically difficult for Schwarzenegger, who has denied two pleas for clemency in other cases.
Is it reassuring to hear it was DIFFICULT to decide to kill a fellow human being, whose current position in a maximum security prison and whose rehabilitation as a helper of others makes him no threat to anyone? Not for me. Why is it difficult in this case to do as the anti-abortion activists always say and choose life? What choice is there? Unlike a cluster of cells, Williams is an actual living, conscious human being who's been judged and is now being ushered out of existance. He's not "life" in the abstract, but a person with a history, with feelings, with thoughts, with relationships, with people who love him. He's a person who makes a contribution to the world in which he lives. Is reading all the "relevant materials" that sum up his case enough homework to inform you about whether he deserves to live or die? How is the "Governator,' The "Gropinator," that media-creature in California qualified to make decisions of life and death? What gives the jury or the judge, or any of us that right? Because that's what the law says?
I've had just about enough KILLING in the name of something called law or freedom or justice this week. There was Rigoberto Alpizar, killed in case he might be breaking the law - but it turned out he wasn't really, except that law about saying anything about having a bomb when you're in an airport or a plane. There were this week's ration of deaths, American, Iraqi and others, in the Middle East. Has the murder machine eaten enough flesh yet? Will the next body, Tookie's be enough to satisfy that national unsatisfiable rage that seems to be driving our national culture?
It's always sad when lots and lots of people die through some horrific accident or act of human malevolence, but when one person because of his authority in some political office gets the power to judge the life of another individual, and decides to coldly kill him, the way Arnold Schwarzenegger did this afternoon, in the name of some abstract notion of "justice"... that to me is the most awful killing of all. It is not anonymous, or an abstract killing of nameless masses. It's the intentional, knowing killing of a specific person, whose own individual life carries with it all the weight of his experience. And that life, the life that's been lived, along with the rest of us, is precious. It's not the violation of the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" that bothers me so much when I read about these death penalty stories. It's the violation of "judge not lest ye be judged."
Doesn't the Governor have a beam in his eye?
Despite the scriptures here, I'm not a religious person, but I find Sister Helen Prejean to be wiser about this issue than almost anyone. She's the kind of person who makes Christianity an attractive philosophy, because the God she follows advocates replacing vengeance and "justice" with forgiveness. She also understands how power works, and what kind of power works through the death penalty. A year ago, she wrote, in the New York Review of Books, about the power of the death penalty in America, and the refusal by Bush as Governor of Texas to sign pardons or clemency appeals. She points out in the articles that Governors always claim to "agonize" over these decisions...but often, they're just agonizing over their poll numbers. Bush evaded moral responsibility for taking these lives. Schwarzenegger likewise, makes his case in the name of refusing to overturn a jury's verdict.
I can't get the thought out of my head, that when I wake up in the morning, that a man who is alive now, will be dead, and not by accident, not by unavoidable fate, not by dire necessity, and not for any "greater good," for which he chose to sacrifice his life, but by calm and calculated decision. Yes, that calm and calculated decision is backed by a frenzy for vengeance that can't wait to get its teeth into the next target for impotent rage. What this says about the state of our country seems to clear to just about everyone except a whole hell of a lot of Americans.
And tonight, who knows how the rest of America will respond.