Whose justice?

The technical editor of Videomaker magazine, Paar is also an independent filmmaker and freelance journalist. Paar writes the monthly CN&R technology column Technobabble.

What kind of criminal justice system do we have?

I was taught in grade school that the purpose of the criminal justice system in the United States is to remove dangerous individuals from the public and commit them to a correctional facility for rehabilitation.

Judging from the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams on Dec. 13th, 2005, all I had been taught is untrue.

Stanley Williams could be considered the “poster child” of rehabilitation. In the 24 years that Williams has been on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison, he has been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize and four times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He has written nine highly acclaimed anti-violence, anti-gang and anti-drug books for elementary school students. Stanley Williams’ autobiography has been nominated for a James Madison Book Award, was adapted into an award-winning movie starring Jamie Foxx and used to build curriculum for at-risk youth by the Chicago Public School System.

Williams has been directly involved in mentoring programs with incarcerated and at-risk youth in cities and prisons across the United States as well as recording anti-gang Public Service Announcements that have aired in the U.S., Canada and the UK. He received the Presidential Call to Service Award in 2005 from George W. Bush for his volunteer efforts with youth.

After close to a quarter century of volunteer work helping children and young adults avoid gangs, violence and drugs, the California Supreme Court executed 51-year-old Williams.

Williams deeply regretted his involvement in co-founding the infamous Crips street gang while still a minor in 1971. Eight years later, Williams was arrested and convicted for four murders during two robberies that Williams has denied participation in to the day he was executed. All four pieces of substantial evidence could not be traced back to him. All the people who gave evidence against Williams were facing a range of felony charges including rape, murder, fraud and mutilation. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stated in a Sept. 10, 2002 ruling that the witnesses in Stan’s case has “less-than-clean backgrounds and incentives to lie in order to obtain leniency from the state in either charging or sentencing.” In a rare move, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals urged then-Gov. Gray Davis to consider commuting the death sentence. The judges praised Tookie Williams for his “laudable efforts opposing gang violence” and his “good works and accomplishments since incarceration.”

The execution of Stanley Williams raises serious questions about the purpose of our incarceration system.