Monday, November 28, 2005

Tookie's Last Chapter

A lot has been made of quadruple murderer Tookie Williams and the children's books he has written. The implication (without any proof) is that his books may have warned a few kids away from joining gangs (such as the Crips, the gang he founded and recruited thousands of kids to join).

The idea that a few good works late in life can undo the fact of four murders (a fact never successfully challenged in 25 years of appeals) undercuts the powerful lesson sent by carrying out the death penalty: that some crimes are unforgivable. In fact, if Tookie -- who shot four people to death based on their race -- is the writer he claims to be, then he should realize that the best final chapter he could write is the one that ends with him walking to San Quentin's Comfy Chair of Oblivion, whimpering like a coward, begging for mercy.

It's what the priest in old crime movies tells the death-row inmate: his remorseful death will do more to show the kids where a life of crime leads than any number of colorful kid's books.

Asking for clemency is neither dramatic nor artistically satisfying (if your intention is to convince kids not to join gangs -- unless Tookie's insincere about that, too). And being granted clemency (especially while refusing to admit to the crime or showing any remorse -- a requirement for clemency) creates a final chapter that tells kids that mass murder is no big deal -- you can do it, refuse to admit you did it, and walk free with a Nobel Prize nomination under your belt, have an Oscar winner portray you on TV, and be the darling of the intelligentsia forevermore.

Sorry, Tookie. You're a killer four times over. Your children's books are as unconvincing a sign of your rehabilitation as finding Jesus is for other imprisoned fiends. And asking for clemency makes you a lousy writer with an abysmal sense of narrative logic.

Bad writer! Die, die!