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December 13, 2005

Lessons Learned

Every year there are thousands more fatal car accidents, but most of us are not closely involved even though we drive every day. While we know that thousands of Americans are victims of murders every year (about 18,000) very few of us ever know of someone who was murdered, and fewer still are witnesses. There is a difference between knowing something to be true and experiencing it firsthand.

I have watched this blog's comments get ugly for the first time. Perhaps it was inevitable. And while I have always known that there were thousands and perhaps millions of Americans who had foolish reasons to believe in Tookie, it was quite a different thing entirely to have them show up and spout off. But I welcome the disagreement, but not all of the nastiness. There's no call for that here. We can be catty and I don't pretend that we have to be 'civil', sometimes a point is best made with a slap. But there's a limit to how much verbal clap I'll allow. In the end, for the sake of history, we represent. That's what it's all about - so I'm glad that some people who sound like real bangers put their words up even though I wouldn't put up with that face to face. It's the advantage of working online. I can have people here that would never get in my house.

It's hard to say I told you so, because I really do have empathy for people who are just so wrong. But hey, we all have our lives to lead and they have to make sense to us. People wrap of the sense of their lives one way or another with Tookie, and it's good that it has happened, because it helps us understand the distance we need to keep from each other. I don't need to see anybody with that ignorant T shirt on. Step off.

But the problem is, no matter how far away we need to keep from each other on issues like this, we still are One Nation, Indivisible. We can debate whether or not we run our lives under God. God's cool with that. We have a choice. But when it comes to the laws of the land, we do not have a choice, and that's a good thing. The people of America won't let you have a choice. We are all invested in law and order. That means we let the cops do the arresting and the judges and juries do the judging. If it weren't for them, we'd be at each other's throats, and this very issue proves it.

I understand that a lot of folks wanted to stay out of it - steer clear of the ugly implications of conflict in this heated issue. When it comes to online debate you have that luxury. But sooner or later you have to speak up - there damned sure will be people who are ready to speak up for you if you don't.

Posted by mbowen at December 13, 2005 12:59 AM

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There's always a choice. It's only a matter of your willingness to risk the potential consequences.

Interesting, your blind faith in the justice system. Disturbing, your glee in the end results here -- do you suppose this is what God wanted? Is that what makes your heart beam, that we humans have done some great right in the eyes of The Lord?

The case against Took was (very) strong. Airtight and bulletproof enough to warrant execution? I have many doubts. Too many interested parties and motivations. If you can't be sure that even Johnny C would fail in defence...?

Posted by: memer [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 13, 2005 09:41 AM

As a citizen, it is necessary for me to have an adequate sense of faith in the justice system in order to pursue my ambitions. I have sophisticated aims, and so I don't want to do as my brother does and dedicate my life to the day to day business of arresting criminals. But since my ambition is social (as opposed to anti-social), I expect that the system be good for society.

As a firsthand witness to the social destruction wrought by the Crips, I am glad to see the system come to this conclusion for Tookie. He was king of the Crips, even inside the walls he wore blue. The king of the Crips is a public enemy. Understand that Tookie is my Saddam Hussein. He is responsible, first and foremost as a cold-blooded killer, and it takes my faith in the system to not go lynch him myself. Remember who you are talking to. I'm the kid of the first Kwanza. I'm the one who was raised to have an extraordinary care and concern for the fate of blackfolks in Los Angeles. I'm the one who champions black bookstores, art galleries and economic advancement. The Crips are worse than cancer to my ambition, so I want to give those proxies for my will, the police and courts, exactly what they need to squash the Crips, Bloods, Pirus, Clanton, Venice 13, MS, 18th Street and every other threat to public safety. I cannot overlook the thousands and thousands of gang killings in Los Angeles County. Tookie's home set of Crips, the Rolling 60s killed 400. That's just one set of Crips. Four hundred lives.

I am not a believer in the term 'senseless death'. Whether or not people care to think about it, everybody dies for a reason. Some die for bad reasons, some for good. Tookie died for a good reason. His death proves that the justice system will go to the ultimate length to keep people like me from having to. That's not glee, that's righteousness. I can understand that distance and abstraction take passion out of the equation. But I and my family know dead people, people killed because of the grudge matches on the streets of Los Angeles that some people have the audacity to call a 'culture'. I'll take the weakest elected judge over the most revered Crip any day. It's easy for me to choose, and I am pleased with my choice and the outcome of this long and tragic story.

As for the will of God, I am absolutely certain that God grants us the power over life and death, and that our capacity for moral reasoning is no accident. It has been our burden and responsibility from the day Eve bit the Apple. That we have responsibility for ourselves and for our neighbors requires that we take life and death decisions, and we should do so with the utmost gravity and seriousness. You ask me who I support in a war against the Crips? Is there some kind of New Jack City calculus you have employed to figure that they are on the side of righteousness? I am no pacifist, nor am I out for blood. But I refuse to evade my responsibility in these matters. I am more than satisfied that slow justice has been done, and the only reason I can be satified with the pace of it is by the great attention this case has merited. So I stand with those who recognize that God is made manifest by the acts of humans and I defy those who suggest that Tookie is a better angel.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 13, 2005 10:26 AM

"He is responsible, first and foremost as a cold-blooded killer, and it takes my faith in the system to not go lynch him myself. Remember who you are talking to. I'm the kid of the first Kwanza.
I love to (try to) press you, Cobb. Good stuff.

But God didn't give us moral reasoning, Mike. Because there is no need for reasoning at all, in fact. According to the Holy Book, there's nothing to hurt your head rationalizing. The rules are fairly plain. He did give us the capacity to understand morality tho. We KNOW the right path, normally. The struggle is in staying on it. Vengeance is HIS, and that's all there be to it.

I'm of the Oldest School of Justice that sez better a gajillion outlaws go free than one innocent wrongly convicted. Now, hold up, not sayin this guy's an innocent by any stretch. Just sayin that in deciding whether or not a crime should be capitally (?) punished, there should be consideration not only re the heinousness of the crime, but also the quality of the evidence to be used.

The number of blemish-free murder cases is rare and there's nothing wrong with that -- the number of state executions should be commensurate.

And i don't buy the whole "i'd be a vigilante if the justice system was any worse" thing. I don't know you very well, admitted. But from all I've read on your blog ('bout a year an a half's worth so far), nothing here convinces me you'd ever throw away your sky-high ambitions and first-Kwaanza upbringing to risk an incarcertated lifestyle.

p.s. i think the Crips got waaaaay bigger than Tookie. At some point, he was merely a figurehead. His arrest and prosecution was more a symbolic, political thing than anything else (note Crips gangs didn't dissolve afterward, eh). Not that there's anything wrong with that. But he's hardly responsible for all (most?) of the nationwide mayhem that grew out of his little hoodlumitry.

*steps out to buy hazmat suit*

Posted by: memer [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 13, 2005 11:53 AM

I don't believe and probably will never be convinced that good works don't matter. And I don't see how the pursuit and implementation of a justice system isn't good. If you ask me, I say it's as morally sound as the establishment of churches themselves, and perhaps just as institutionally prone to flaws. We accept that the institutions will make mistakes. If any of them do, then God makes up for it. That is, if you believe in divine rewards and punishments.

Just as any church has its ultimate sacraments, so the justice system has its ultimate punishments. So first of all, the idea that 'redemption' is even in the offing for a prisoner is beside the point. Its use is an abuse of the system. It's like saying that a preist shouldn't call me to atonement because I've bought a new shirt. The punishment stands.

I personally do have those vengeful thoughts when it comes to Tookie and Crips. I wouldn't risk my freedom to act on those thoughts because I know the justice system would catch me. Hell, I'm admitting motive right here. But if I had no faith that the justice system could handle the problem, I would have no qualms in calling for a revolution because I fundamentally am against the Crips and such gangs. What did Korean merchants do during the LA Riots. They got out their guns. Why? Because the cops were elsewhere. Basically, I am stressing the quality of life made affordable by a sleepless justice system. The more adequate we feel it is up to the task of handling what we can't, or don't want to, the more stabilizing it is for society. In England, they don't even feel that cops need guns. If cops in America didn't have guns, the public would lose all confidence in them. The same is true with the death penalty. It's there because the people need it to be commensurate with the depravity of criminals our system must handle.

Tookie's arrest wasn't symbolic. He was on a killing spree. And while it's true that Crips back in 79 were not half as dangerous as they were in 82, I cannot believe that Tookie of all people, would have abdicated his throne were he not incarcerated. But since I'm not going to get enmeshed in matters of timetables and metrics of redemption, I say it doesn't much matter. On the merits, an eye for an eye would have been a cushy deal for Tookie. He took 8.

Tookie's legend among Crips, be he active or not, set a precedent. I believe that precedent of being willing and able to rampage against innocents was amplified through the Crips. I believe he was unable to do any work that significantly altered that precedent. How many comedians have we heard use the line 'if you didn't put a quarter in my hat, i could be robbing your house'. Attributions are impossible. What Tookie didn't do which is significant in all this, is cooperate with the justice system against the Crips. So he may have absolved himself and felt good about that (and it took many years for incarceration to pacify him, considering his plans to blow up a bus), but he never made amends for Crippin' through the system that's supposed to. He remained anti-social until the bitter end, claiming against the system and offering George Jackson as a role model. That's why he has no pity from me.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 15, 2005 08:48 AM