Editorial: Abolish the death penalty

The state of California’s cold-blooded execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams throws a harsh light on the barbaric practice of capital punishment in the United States.

Williams’ execution was a travesty of justice.

Williams maintained his innocence until the end. His trial was full of holes — a key witness later recanted, and others were themselves felons with something to gain by testifying against him.

But regardless of whether he was guilty or innocent of the crimes for which he was executed, Williams was a model of the redemption that our “justice” system is supposed to bring about. He went from being a gang leader to a peacebroker between rival gangs and an author of children’s books with an anti-gang message. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

The problem goes beyond the issue of redemption. The death penalty is inextricably bound up with our racist and class-biased justice system and for that reason alone can never be just. Look at the spectacle around murder trials of wealthy people. They are able to hire “star” lawyers, and almost always wind up with relatively mild prison time, if any. Who can remember the last rich person to be executed?

A working-class person, especially one who is Black, Latino or another minority — like Williams — generally ends up with an overworked public defender, often facing a jury picked to exclude his or her peers, and an unsympathetic judge.

Check the statistics: although crimes actually committed by African American or Latino are roughly proportional to their percent of the population, African Americans and Latinos make up a vastly disproportionate percentage of those who have been executed, or are on death row, and of those incarcerated.

As has been widely documented, with the shortcomings and inequities in our judicial system, the existence of the death penalty guarantees the execution of innocent people. The death penalty has never produced a decrease in crime. It is not only useless — it is itself a crime. It should be abolished.