Stanley “Tookie” Williams is one of the founders of the Crips street gang. He’s also a convicted murderer and is scheduled to be murdered by agents of the state of California—probably white men—on Dec. 13, 2005. Mr. Williams, whom I’ve never met and only learned about recently, has been in prison since 1981, and while he’s been in there he has become a vocal opponent of gang violence, writing a series of children’s books about it and helping others to renounce violence. The story is that he’s changed, seen the light like Saint Augustine saw the light, and the Buddha and George Bush (he was even born all over again) and Malcolm X and Hiawatha and Mary Magdalene and Charles Colson and probably Jesus. Why not Stanley Williams?

An Internet blogger wrote, “He is a coward that destroyed innocent human beings for no good reason and deserves to be put to death.” This person seems to think there’s at least one good reason to destroy innocent human beings, and maybe more. What might some of those reasons be?

Some people say Williams ought to be killed because it’s the law or because he deserves death or because it will point out how much we value the lives of the four people he killed. Some think he’s faking rehabilitation, that underneath the crusading children’s author is a murderous thug, which, of course, there is.

I dare say there are murderous thugs under a lot of us. It’s the human condition, that wild range of possibilities with Mother Teresa and Ted Bundy, soldiers and saints. We could each be any of the rest of us, if we had to.

I don’t know what Mr. Williams deserves, maybe what he’s got. Maybe not, but if “corrections” means anything, rehabilitation must be acknowledged, and Mr. Williams is a rehab poster boy.

I don’t know if Mr. Williams committed the murders he was accused of or not. I don’t care. We’d forgive a U.S. soldier who invaded Iraq and killed people for less reason than Tookie Williams ever killed anybody, and we should forgive Stanley Williams, too.

I do not approve of murder, and I don’t want the lumbering, imbecilic government of California killing people. So that’s another reason not to kill Williams—because, given all the greed and laziness and insecurity and venality in politics, any government is too stupid to be trusted with life-and-death issues. Think about some of the people various governments have sent goons to kill—from Sitting Bull to John Dillinger to Mark Clark and Fred Hampton to Salvador Allende to Fidel Castro to Patrice Lumumba and now Tookie Williams.

I don’t think much of Christianity, but I think a lot of Jesus—a consistent supporter of redemption, as I recall—and Jesus and a lot of other radicals were all about redemption and forgiveness. So there’s that.

Voltaire (François Marie Arouet) said, “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. “Maybe Tookie should say he was at war with those people he killed. They could be collateral damage.