Stanley Tookie Williams' supporters clearly want this to be a "teaching moment" for the United States. To this end, Williams is being made a martyr. "The state of California just killed an innocent man," shouted three of his followers after the execution.
Of course, the canonization process got started long ago, in schools, in the press and even on the screen. Williams' Nobel Prize nominations were relentlessly touted as if they were the equivalent of the silver medal in the humanitarian Olympics, when in fact it is a literally meaningless distinction easily conferred by almost any sympathetic academic, including some who decent people would not want to be admired by. His supposedly world-changing books languished on shelves, though that will surely change now.
The film "Redemption," starring Jamie Foxx, was little more than a spiritualized hagiography in which the murders that landed Williams on death row are glossed over so as to avoid confusing the viewer with the emotionally distracting fact that Williams executed four unarmed people with a shotgun. Williams' apostles prefer to describe his past as "poor choices," a nicely sanitized euphemism everyone can relate to, as if Williams was put to death for choosing to go to San Francisco State instead of UCLA.
Meanwhile, the supposed evil of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to uphold 25 years of court decisions (often by very liberal courts, including the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals), the law of the state and the expressed desires of his constituents is made into a crime of horrific inhumanity and malevolence.
As one protester on CNN declared: "Now we are here today because we understand this racist system wants to kill Stan Tookie Williams because of the example he sets to young people across this country."
Ah, yes, it was Tookie's anti-gang "message" that put him in the death chamber, not his multiple murders. After all, the white power structure cannot abide gangsters putting out nonviolent children's books.
Many Americans hear this sort of thing and ask, "Who believes this garbage?"
So here is what I think could be the foundation of a true teaching moment for the anti-death penalty community. One of the main reasons its sermons don't resonate beyond the choir isn't that Americans are consumed with racist bloodlust or yearnings for vengeance. It isn't even because all death penalty supporters are unshakably convinced of the rightness of their position. It's because the anti-capital punishment crowd has lost all credibility.