Saturday, January 14, 2006

Self-Flagellation


California's oldest death row inmate -- who is 75, legally blind and nearly deaf -- is asking the Supreme Court to do something it has never done before: block an execution because of the condemned man's advanced age and infirmity.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) denied Allen clemency on Friday. Barring a last-minute reprieve from the courts, the governor's decision means Allen will become the second-oldest person put to death since the Supreme Court allowed the resumption of capital punishment in 1976. He is set to die by injection on Tuesday for ordering three slayings while behind bars for another murder.


This is the second time in a month that California's governor denies clemency for a death row inmate. The other time was on Dec. the 13th when Stanley 'Tookie' Williams was killed after midnight.

I went to San Quentin prison last month, but I'm definitely not going this time. Going to that “protest” last month was way more disappointing than what I expected!

I always had problems in dealing with the methodologies and approaches of political and social groups that are supposed to be on “my side”: the groups that have similar social and political goals to the ones I seek, like the anti-war organizations or pro-choice groups. It’s harder to criticize the groups I have this subconscious feeling of association with than to criticize groups on “the other side”, like the raging crowds of neo-cons.

It’s a more complicated scene now. On a global scale, I find myself lost between groups with “good” ideologies and “bad” strategies, or groups with “bad” ideologies but “good” strategies. On a local scale, I’m caught between groups with a “good” foreign policy and “bad” local ones, or groups with a “bad” foreign policy and “good” social ones. After moving to the US, I even stopped using the words right-wing and left-wing due to the confusion they cause when used in the US context, especially the mainstream one. Don’t tell me that the Democratic Party is “left-wing”.

Left wing my foot.

Or even in the case of some European countries like Britain.

Labor party my other foot.

Taking in consideration that we live in the world of fundamentalism, I suggest new “winging” to the political parties. We should have the “West Wing” Fundamentalism, the “East Wing” Fundamentalism, and the fragmented “Secular Boneless-Wing” Fundamentalism.

“Hello there, this is Osama, a member of the E.W.”.
“Oh, I’m Joe, a supporter of the W.W.”.
*shouting, shooting, then one big explosion*
“omg, I’m an active member in the S.B.W, I wasn’t here during the fight, but I can say it’ll effect the environment”
-cut-

Back to my story about San Quentin last month, I was overwhelmed by the press coverage of Stanley Williams’ execution. The protesting parties were, as usual, confused and confusing. On one radio station, someone told us he was innocent and didn’t kill the three people. On another TV show someone told us Tookie shouldn’t die because he wrote great books for children asking them not to join gangs, other protestors claimed this was a racist execution against black Americans, and some other analysts told us how executing him will give the wrong message to the gang community by killing the symbol of redemption.

I listened to hours of discussions, while driving or doing other work, but didn’t hear a single person doubting or discussing the ethical basis of the norm of execution itself. I’m sure there are many people out there fighting against the death penalty, but I didn’t hear any of them. None of the other arguments made sense to me. He is a convicted murderer, and if the law kills murderers, he should be killed. It’s that simple. We either change the law or kill him. What in the hell does writing books or repentance have to do with his case?

My only concern about the entire story was the fact that someone will be killed. Period. I don’t think killing people is justified, even if they were murderers. It’s like putting a law that sounds like: All rapists should be raped! Just imagine a law where the government invites the families of both the rapist and the victim, and rapes the rapist in front of everyone!

Anyway… Niki and I decided to go to San Quentin to examine the reactions of the protestors and see what was going on there. I was more interested in seeing whether some of the protestors had anything to say about the fact that execution is being used as a solution for murders. I had many questions in my head in our way there: If killing is wrong, how come we practice it as a society? Is institutional killing more justified than murder at the hands of individuals? Isn’t the entire concept of revenge/execution based on one of the old seven sins: Wrath?

But wait, no one gives a dime about the seven sins.

So we reached there some minutes before midnight where thousands of people were gathering in front of the prison gate, some three helicopters watching us from the sky, in addition to dozens of policemen surrounding the area. The police lights and helicopters’ noise made me feel like I’m going to a major event, a major grand event that will change my image about something! We approached the crowd, walked through it to reach to the event’s core.

But guess what?

Nothing was happening!

Some group with crosses, another group with a Star of David, a third group distributing their socialist newspaper, and other people holding banners with no significant meaning.

On the left side, a small group of four black women were creating a focal point for the crowd. Three of them were dancing and drumming, and the fourth one was doing a performance, crying and crawling on a plastic picture of Tookie, and screaming “The mothers of the middle passage!”.

A blond guy watching the dancing women group asked another person standing in front of me: “Is this his mom?”, the other answered “I don’t think so”. Then they walked away.

The rest of the people were socializing in a cocktail-party-style. Others seemed to be proving to themselves, and their peers, that they were actually here. “MARK, MARK, MARK, I’M HERE”, some woman called to her friend. He looked at her from the other side of the crowd and waived his hand.

When Tookie was actually executed, no one noticed. Most of the people were talking at that minute. People on the stage were shouting, and many people around me gossiping, laughing, and hanging around. I still didn’t see anyone who was fighting against the death penalty, but I hope they existed there, somewhere.

No two minutes of silence.
No respects paid to the life of the man killed inside.

We felt disappointed and came back home at around one in the morning, and left some hundreds of protestors hanging around there.

The second day, all the stations were pounding Schwarzenegger with every possible kind of attack and insult: “The son of the Nazi”, “the murderer”, “the terminator” and so on. As if it was the governors’ mistake! As if he put the law!

Next week, another execution will take place in California. This time a 75 year old, legally blind and nearly deaf man who can’t move without his wheelchair, will be carried to the death chamber by one of the state’s employees, then poisoned in front of his family, and the family of his victims.

“He’s too old to die” shouted the protestors. “Our daughter was too young to die” shouted the parents of one of his victims.

Execution sucks, but it’s a part of the law. We should either work together to change the law in the right way, or go have real cocktail parties in our backyards.

On a second note, click here or here if you were interested in listening to some Self-Flagellation Shia-style. Both Niki and I are working our way towards O.D.ing on it soon! We wish you'll enjoy.