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Tookie Williams, Martin Luther King, Jr., and a "Foreign-Born Governor":

Cal Poly Pomona political science professor Renford Reese has an op-ed comparing Stanley Williams to Martin Luther King, Jr., plus, among others, Gandhi and Mother Teresa. No, seriously:

I learned of the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams while I was giving a series of lectures in Shanghai, China. I was struck by the many ironies surrounding this controversial death penalty case.

The fact that I was in China learning of the execution of a man in the United States was the first irony that caught my attention. I asked a Chinese university student whether he supported the death penalty. He said, "Yes, but I am from China."

The second of many ironies was that an elitist, foreign-born governor who made his fortune by promoting violence in his films denied Williams clemency.

Perhaps the most provocative irony, however, that occupied my mind while I thought of the execution of Williams was the similarities he shared with Martin Luther King Jr. For those who think it is blasphemous to use the self-proclaimed co-founder of the Crips and King in the same sentence, bear with me. . . .

[I]respective of his guilt or innocence involving the crimes for which he was executed, Tookie was once a bad person — a cancer to his community. It was not his past that links him to King but his redemption. . . . [F]rom their [jail] cells, King and Williams embraced the same theme. Despite Williams' violent past, he came to embrace King's philosophy of agape love.

Both Williams and King were celebrated internationally and vilified in their own country. Although Williams had many supporters in the United States, there were many more who thought he deserved the death penalty. During the time of King's murder, many in America could care less about his embrace of peace. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and many like-minded Americans saw King as a race agitator. Decades removed from the civil rights movement, King has become America's icon for peace.

King and Williams were both worthy of being considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. Tookie was nominated for the prestigious award on multiple occasions.

King won the Nobel in 1964. Moreover, King embraced peace in the midst of the violent and senseless Vietnam War. Williams embraced peace in the midst of the violent and senseless Iraq War. . . .

If King were alive, he would have forgiven his brother Tookie for his wrongful deeds. He would have endorsed clemency for him. For those, including Gov. Schwarzenegger, who advocated the death penalty for Williams, King would have urged not to ''drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred." . . .

King stood for peace and was killed. Williams stood for peace and was killed. America must realize that violence begets violence. We live in a society that gives us contradictory messages about violence. We embrace it in some forms, like the governor and the president, and despise it in other forms. As Americans we must reconcile our contradictory stances on violence. . . .

Most great figures in world history are remembered for their compassion. King shared this trait with the Ghandis, Mother Teresas, and Mandelas of the world. He also shared this trait with the late Stanley Tookie Williams.

There's just so much here that I can't cover it all: The reference to Nobel Peace Prize nominations, as if they mean anything. (Both the op-ed's author and I, as professors of law or social science, are perfectly entitled to nominate whomever we please for the Nobel.) The irrelevant reference to the Iraq War. The focus on a person's supposed redemption, without any recognition that actual past conduct — say, multiple murders — might also be relevant, and that maybe Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been remembered differently (despite his "compassion") if he'd murdered innocent people. (Incidentally, if Williams is just like King, shouldn't he be just let out of jail altogether? Presumably not executing him wouldn't be enough, no?)

But what takes the cake, I think, is this:

The second of many ironies was that an elitist, foreign-born governor who made his fortune by promoting violence in his films denied Williams clemency.

What on earth does it matter that Schwarzenegger is "foreign-born"? How is this "ironic," or for that matter remotely relevant? Seems to me like a pretty troubling form of nativism — tarring the actions of an immigrant made good by referring to his status as an immigrant — but I can only say "seems to me" because the statement is so perplexing that it's hard to do more than just guess that it's an insult.

Thanks to my colleague Tim Groseclose for the pointer.

guest (mail):
Goes to prove the aphorism that some things are so stupid, only university professors can believe them.
1.9.2006 12:28pm
steve k:
Both MLK, Jr. and Hitler spent an important part of their life in jail, a turning point where they pondered their mission and wrote important work that brought them great fame. I suppose one could come up with hundreds more parallels if one wants to waste one's time on such nonsense.
1.9.2006 12:37pm
Cornellian (mail):
I think that was George Orwell, and I think the line was something more like "some things are such obvious nonsense that only an intellectual could believe them."

Re the gratuitous (and presumably intended as disparaging) remark that the Governor is "foreign born", I wonder if the professor would have made the same remark had Arnold been from Mexico rather than Austria. And we are talking California here, where a huge percentage of the population is at least from another state, if not another country. Being "foreign born" is hardly much of a distinction in California. It's an attractive place to live for a lot of reasons, so a lot of people move there.

The comparison to King and Gandhi is exactly the type of completely over-the-top hyberbole that explains why many academics are not taken seriously in the real world, nor should they be.
1.9.2006 12:40pm
RituallyJewcy (mail):
Despite Williams' violent past, he came to embrace King's philosophy of agape love.
Being that he never apologized for his violent past...
anyone accepting him in mainstream society would be expressing what is called "unconditional love"....
.....any volunteers?
1.9.2006 12:41pm
Dave from Woodstock:
I would guess that virtually every death row inmate maintains both his or her innocence and claims a 'spiritual rebirth' of some sort.

By this author's logic, that makes them all begin to be worthy of comparison to MLK Jr. Add a couple of other irrelevant facts and there you have it.

This is simply idiotic.
1.9.2006 12:56pm
Sigivald (mail):
The second of many ironies was that an elitist, foreign-born governor who made his fortune by promoting violence in his films denied Williams clemency

I imagine the "irony" must be meant to apply to "promoting violence in his films", not "elitist, foreign born".

Of course, I don't recall any of Schwarzenegger's films suggesting that violence of the sort that would be murdering innocent people you're robbing was good. His films might promote violence against people like Williams, I suppose.

(The only one I can think of offhand - I'm not a Schwarzenegger scholar - where his character attacked innocent people (not, in any case, executing them while prone, to prevent them testifying against him for a petty robbery) was The Terminator, and his character wasn't exactly glorified, was it? The violence possibly "promoted" by that film was violence against robot assassins from the future. Unless Williams was a robot assassin, I see no case.)
1.9.2006 1:04pm
Nobody Special:
What's with the "elitist" throwaway, anyhow?

I'm under the impression that the death penalty in the U.S. is mostly a populist, hang-em-high movement.
1.9.2006 1:13pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

What on earth does it matter that Schwarzenegger is "foreign-born"?


I think it could be intended to mean that because Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't raised in the United States but rather in enlightened Europe, he ought to know better than to support or rather allow the execution of a man who murdered four people in cold blood.
1.9.2006 1:18pm
Dave:
Winston's argument seems plausible, though at the very least, it's very bad word choice.

Nativism is quite bad.

Dave
1.9.2006 1:34pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Unless Williams was a robot assassin, I see no case.
Can you prove he wasn't? Grounds for another habeas petition!
1.9.2006 1:51pm
Jeffersonranch (mail):
This professor is Captain Dupe, from a ship of fools.
1.9.2006 1:59pm
MCO:
I find it ironic that a college professor does not know that she (he?) does not know what "ironic" means and proceeds to demonstrate that fact not once, but three times. At least she misuses "agape" only once. And I am hoping that the misspelling of Gandhi was a transcription error.

Can she be convicted of "abusing the public credulity"? Please?
1.9.2006 2:14pm
Nobody Special:
How's she misusing agape? Seems fairly fitting (as much as using any trendy ancient Greek word... topos is another favorite) for MLK.
1.9.2006 2:24pm
MCO:
Nobody Special-

Agape is a noun, not an adjective.
1.9.2006 2:26pm
Gordon (mail):
Yes, the nativist nonsense was the crown on the head of this idiotic article.

Unfortunately, Professor Reese isn't the only supposedly educated person in today's times who has forgotten the key role that immigrants have played, and continue to play, in the progress and development of our great nation, whether they be Governor Schwarzenegger, or Professor Volokh, or the genius of fifty years from now that is the son or daughter of today's illegal Mexican immigrant.
1.9.2006 2:37pm
Nobody Special:
True, but in English, foreign words are used as adjectives all the time where they denote a particular concept only broadly covered by our equivalent word.

The distinction between agape and eros in Greek is a pretty good example of this. Both are traditionally translated as "love" but refer to different concepts, and so appending the original Greek term to the translation is a decent way of specifying which of the two is intended.

Other Germanic languages do this all the time, but, like most things, German itself is more reasonable, and just appends the nouns together into one major compound noun.

Essentially, I find the nitpicking of part of speech used in a foreign language concept to be pretty minor compared to the vast idiocy of the column.
1.9.2006 2:40pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Both the op-ed's author and I, as professors of law or social science, are perfectly entitled to nominate whomever we please for the Nobel.

Perfectly right, and why don't you and a few others nominate Pat Roberts for the damn thing? Or Fred Phelps. Or George Lincoln Rockwell (posthumously), for that matter. I can't think of a better way to show how silly the 'Nobel' defense is.
1.9.2006 3:17pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
The problem with seeing 'foreign-born' as good is that it's in parallel to two bad descriptors. I thought the same thing, but I don't think it's likely to be a coherent statement if so (not that it's coherent anyway).
1.9.2006 4:05pm
Deoxy (mail):
"I can't think of a better way to show how silly the 'Nobel' defense is."

Nominate a freshing steaming pile of feces.
1.9.2006 4:29pm
Splunge (mail):
Well, a Christian response to Professor What's-her-name would be that, indeed, we may honor Tookie's soul for its redemption (if any), but that need not prevent us from requiring that his body pay the price for his crimes.

Which leads to the fact that an interesting unexamined assumption underlying Professor Puddinhead's tirade is that she equates, at least partially, redemption with annulment. Because Tookie is (she argues) a good man now, it's as if his crimes never happened at all. But this proposal is probably repulsive to most of us. Even if we were to grant the premise that Tookie changed, and became later in his life a worthwhile person, does that make irrelevant the fact that, earlier in his life, his actions earned him the death penalty? I think most people would answer no. They would say a man cannot be judged solely by his present actions -- he must bear responsibility for his past actions as well. Even if a man is a saint today, he must pay the price of being a devil yesterday.

An interesting concomitant of her unexamined prejudice relates interestingly to Professor Poindexter's profession and that of Professor Volokh, who criticizes her severely. To think as the former does, that one should judge men primarily by their present character, rather than by their actions in life thus far, is to vitiate a key premise of justice: if bad actions are strongly coupled post facto with bad consequences, then people will avoid bad actions.

Now, if we can't or shouldn't rely on punishment to deter crime, we are forced to contemplate systems of social order that focus on preventing crime instead, e.g. we need a Department of Precrime, headed by people expert in predicting what kind of character or situation leads to crime. Presumably that means we need fewer professors of law and more professors of sociology.

Is it any surprise, then, where the two professors stand on the issue?
1.9.2006 4:38pm
theophylact:
Foreign-born is no problem; but I am somewhat dismayed that he continues to hold dual citizenship. Should he run for President under an enabling Constitutional Amendment, I would hope that he would renounce his Austrian citizenship. Alberto Fujimori is a textbook Horrid Example.
1.9.2006 4:41pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
In response to Doc Volokh's "I Guess God liked Stalin" post (regarding Pat Robertson and Ariel Sharon) back on 1/5/06 "Chris" opined:


Pat Robertson is an idiot. Almost everyone knows this, including most fundamentalist Christians. It doesn't seem to me that the religious right holds him up as their spokesman. It's the secular left that props him up as their supposed spokesman because they like fundamentalist Christians looking like they're led by idiots.

I'm going with that theory as to Professor Reese: he's a plant, a stooge, a hard-line religious-fundamentalist conservative PRETENDING to be a liberal, to embarrass the left. David Horowitz and Rush Limbaugh cleverly concocted him, 'd be my guess...
Certainly, Prof. Reese, whomever he may be, carries fewer imprimaturs (can you make a plural of that?) of bona fide approval from anyone on the left than Robertson does from the right. (consider how many times Robertson has either been invited to the White House or spoken at national Republican events...)

A fake, I tells ya....


rfgs
1.9.2006 5:35pm
John R. Mayne (mail):
I like RFGS's explanation, but isn't the simpler one that The Onion mislaid a column? I can see the headline: "Tookie: A Hero to All, Except the People He Murdered."

--JRM
1.9.2006 6:12pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
All Tookie had to do was say he was sorry and his sentence would have been commuted and he'd be out on parole in a few years.
1.9.2006 8:35pm
Mike G. in San Diego (mail):
All Tookie had to do was say he was sorry and his sentence would have been commuted and he'd be out on parole in a few years.


Aha! But that proves it, you see -- Tookie didn't commit those murders, and he had so much integrity that he refused to admit to them because he was really innocent!

</moonbat> Believe it or not, I've actually heard people use this argument. Yeesh.
1.10.2006 1:59am
ak47pundit (www):
The deranged professor also takes the cake when he wrote

If King were alive, he would have forgiven his brother Tookie for his wrongful deeds.
Of course, it would not be for King to forgive his brother for his deeds, but for his victims and his victims' families. The belief that anyone can forgive a person for wrongs they have committed to another person is ridiculous.

In any case I can't recall Dr. King forgiving anyone for committing murder, but I may be wrong.
1.10.2006 12:33pm
Karl Rove:
If Prof. Reese didn't exist, I would have to invent him.
1.10.2006 3:26pm