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.